IN EASTERN SEAS; OR, THE COMMISSION OF H.M.S. "IRON DUKE," Flag-ship in China, 1878-83.
BY J. J. SMITH, N. S.
DEVONPORT: PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY A. H. SWISS, 111 AND 112 FORE STREET. 1883.
To my late Shipmates IN H.M.S. "IRON DUKE,"
The following pages are respectfully inscribed.
Those who voyage beyond sea change their climate often, but their affections never.
To write something which shall please one's own friends is one thing; to undertake the task of pleasing anybody else is another; and, I take it, a far more difficult one. The writer of the following pages never sought to sail beyond the peaceful and well-marked area of the first, until induced—at the suggestions of his shipmates, though against his better judgment—to venture on the dark and tempest-swept ocean of the second.
The only originality claimed for the narrative is that of introducing such a manifestly inferior production to your notice.
Shipmates, my little bark is frail; deal gently with her, and—let me ask it as a special favor—do not blow too fiercely on her untried sails.
Much depends on the title of a book. Does it convey an adequate idea of the subject-matter? I would claim for mine at least that merit; for is not every sea over which we have voyaged to the eastward of England?
Page CHAPTER I.
We Commission our Ship—Visit Portsmouth—Prepare to Sail 1
Good-by to Albion—Southward Ho!—Gibraltar 12
Up the Mediterranean—Malta 26
Port Said—The Suez Canal—Voyage down the Red Sea—Aden 39
Across the Indian Ocean—Ceylon—Singapore—A Cruise in the Straits of Malacca 47
Sarawak—Labuan—Manilla—Heavy weather 62
Hong Kong—Some Chinese manners and customs 71
Preparations for the North—Amoy—Wosung, and what befell us there 83
Arrival at Nagasaki—Something about Japan—A run through the Town—Visit to a Sintoo Temple 94
The Inland Sea—Kobe—Fusi-Yama—Yokohama—Visit to Tokio 113
Northward—Hakodadi—Dui—Castries Bay—Barracouta— Vladivostock 131
Chefoo—Nagasaki en route—Japan revisited—Kobe— Yokohama 146
We attempt an overland route, with the result of the trial 159
The new regime—Something about Saigon—The First Cruise of the China Squadron—An Alarm of Fire!—Arrival of Flying Squadron 181
Second Cruise of the China Squadron—Principally concerning a Visit to the Loo-Choo Isles and Corea—Welcome news from home—Conclusion 210
APPENDIX A.—Deaths during the Commission i.
APPENDIX B.—Table of places visited and distances run during the Commission iii.
"We sail the ocean blue, And our saucy ship's a beauty."
WE COMMISSION OUR SHIP. VISIT PORTSMOUTH. PREPARE TO SAIL.
On one of those delicious semi-tropical afternoons, which geologists tell us once bathed the whole of our island, and which even now, as though loath to part from its one-time home, still dwells lovingly in Devonia's summer, I wended my way to Devonport Park to feast my eyes once again on the familiar scenes of early days. What I beheld was a fair picture—the Hamoaze, with its burden of shapely hulls, and its beautiful undulating shores of wood and dell, lay glittering resplendent at my feet. So still and peaceful was it all that the din of hammers, the whir of machinery, and the voices of men were all blended in one most musical cadence. Scores of pleasure-boats dot the lake-like surface of the noble sheet of water, for the most part rowed by the lusty arms of those amphibious creatures familiarly known as "Jack Tars," recently let loose from the dear old "Model" or the equally dear "Academy." A voice, bell-like and clear—surely that of a girl—invited my closer attention; and yes, there she is! and not one only, but many ones,—one in each boat, whom Jack is initiating into that wonderfully difficult branch of navigation—a sailor's courtship!
Now, whatever anybody else may say to the contrary, I hold that the British tar would scarcely be the "soaring soul" that he is were it not for the influence—not always a beneficial influence, by the way, of the softer sex. And here, a word for him with special respect to what people are pleased to call his inconstancy. With all his vagaries, and from the very nature of his calling he has many, I think there are few other professions which would bear weighing in the balance with his and not be found as wanting in this quality. True, none is so easily swayed, so easily led; but the fault is not his, that must be laid at the doors of those who compel England's sailors to a forced banishment for long periods of years, in lands where it is impossible the home influences can reach them. Is it a matter of much wonderment, then, if he is swayed by the new and intoxicating forms which pleasure takes in those far-distant climes where the eye of Mrs. Grundy never penetrates?
A somewhat curious way in which to commence my narrative, say you? I think so too, on re-reading it; but with your permission, I will not dash my pen through it.
Let me, however, make sail and get under way with my yarn.
Cast we our eyes outward once again, beyond the boats with their beautiful coxswains—I mean hen-swains—to where that huge glistening iron mass floats proudly on the main. Reader, that object is the heroine, if I may so say, of this very unromantic story. She is in strange contrast with the numerous wooden veterans around her—relics of Old England's fighting days. I thought as I gazed on that splendid ship that, had I my choice, nothing would suit me better than to go to sea in her.
A month has passed; it is the 4th of July, in the year of grace 1878, and my wish is likely to be consummated, for I find myself on this morning, with several hundreds of others, taking a short trip across the harbour to the "Iron Duke," for so is she named, corrupted by irreverent mariners into the "Irish Duke."
We skip lightly up the side, or through the ports, bundling boxes, bags, and hats unceremoniously through anywhere; and find ourselves, though not without sundry knocks and manifold bruises, standing on the quarter-deck.
With a few exceptions we are all West-countrymen, undoubted "dumplings" and "duff-eaters"—at least, so say our East-country friends, though experience has taught me, and probably many of my readers too, that at demolishing a plum pudding the east is not a whit behind the west; in that particular we all betray a common English origin.
Though our ship's company is, seemingly, young, very young, the men are growing, and lusty and strong: and bid fair, ere the end of our commission, to develope into the ideal British sailor. A stranger, perhaps, would be struck with their youthful appearance; for strangers, especially if they be midland men, have an idea that a sailor is a hairy monster, but once removed from a gorilla or a baboon; and if we accept the relationship to these candated gentry, I don't think his ideas would be far out—say a dozen years since. But these terrible monsters are all now enjoying their well-earned pensions in rural quiet, leaving to the youngsters of this generation the duty of supplying their places in that great fighting machine—the navy.
The sailor of to-day possesses, at least, one decided advantage over his brother of the past. In the olden days—not so very olden either—if one man in a ship's company could read and write a letter he was considered a genius; now a sailor is, comparatively, an educated man: and if one is to be found who cannot read and write well, and accomplish far more abstruse things with his head, he is dubbed—a donkey. He is not now the debauched ignoramus which has made the English sailor a proverb all over the world. Education is of little value if it is not capable of changing a man's habits for the better. There is, however, much room for improvement in certain national traits; apropos of this, the "Mail" for September, 20th, 1880, lies before me, wherein the writer, in a leading article, after giving a description of the combined squadron at Gravosa, goes on to say, "It is amusing to find that the traditional impression of an Englishman prevails so largely at Gravosa, Ragrusa, &c., namely, that he is always drunk, or has just been drunk, or is on the point of being drunk." Great, though, was the surprise of the honest Ragusans when they discovered that their estimate of that erratic creature was at variance with the testimony of their experience of him; for the writer further adds, "The conduct of our men ashore, the neat, clean appearance they present, and their orderly and sober behaviour has been much commented on."
But this is a digression—let me bring to the wind again. At the time of our arrival on board neither the captain nor the commander had joined. The first lieutenant was, however, awaiting us on the quarter-deck, and who, with the promptness of an old sailor, allowed no time to be wasted, but proceeded at once with the work of stationing his crew.
At length every man knows his place on the watch-bill, and we hurry off to the lower deck to look after our more private affairs.
It needs not that I enter into a long and dry description of the peculiar construction of our ship, of the guns she carries, or how she is fitted out. You yourselves are far more qualified to do that than I am. After just a cursory glance at these particulars we see about getting some "panem," especially as a most delectable odour from the lower regions assails our nostrils, betraying that that indispensable gentleman, the ship's cook, has lavished all his art on the production of a sailor's dinner. "Man is mortal," so we yield to the temptation, especially as we are awfully hungry—when is a sailor not so? Few meals present so much food for wonderment to the landsman as does a sailor's first dinner on board a newly-commissioned ship; all is hurry, bustle, and apparently hopeless confusion. Bags and hammocks lie about just where they ought not to lie; ditty boxes are piled anywhere, and threatening instant downfall; whilst one has to wade knee-deep through a whole sea of hats to reach a place at the tables.
A jostling, animated, good-natured throng is this multitude of seamen, intent on satisfying nature's first demand; for dinner is the only meal, properly so called, a sailor gets. Nor does it matter much, though the ship's steward has not yet issued a single utensil out of which we can dine; such a slight annoyance is not likely to inconvenience men who, in most things, are as primitive in their mode of living as were our progenitors in the garden of story. Bear in mind, the object we have in view is to clear those tables of their frugal burdens—hunks of boiled beef, absolutely nothing else. What, then, though there be no elaborate dinner service, so long as the end is attained, and that it is, and in the most satisfactory and expeditious manner, with scrupulous neatness and perfect finish, our friends from the shore must bear witness.
A few words, ere we fall to, descriptive of the lower deck, which serves us for "kitchen, parlour, and all." What an altitude between the decks! Can it be that those concerns up there are meant for the stowage of boxes and hats? And see, too, this systematic arrangement of bars, transverse and upright, is it possible they are anything naval? Their office, though, becomes apparent when we reflect that there are no hooks, as in wooden ships, for the hammocks. In this iron age we have advanced a step, and even sailors can now boast of having posts to their beds. For the rest, the tables are large and at a comfortable distance apart; the ports admit a cheerful amount of light and a wholesome supply of air; and—but there goes the pipe "to dinner," so I will pipe down.
A telegram had been received during the forenoon, announcing that the captain would join us further on in the day; and accordingly, at about 4 p.m., he arrived. A tall, rather slight made man is our future chief, upright as an arrow, and with an eye such as one sees in men born to command men. His reputation comes with him in that vague semi-mysterious manner—such news does travel—and we hear he is a strict "service" officer, and an excellent seaman—good qualities both, and such as the generality of man-of-war's men raise no objection to. Withal we are told he is "smart," meaning, of course, that there must be no shirking of duty, no infringement of the regulations with him. His reputation, I say, came with him, it stuck to him, and left with him. With the captain's arrival our first day on board came to an end.
On the 6th the commander joined. In appearance he is the direct antithesis of the captain, being stout, well knit, and of medium height—the ideal Englishman of the country gentleman type—bluff and hearty, and with a face as cheerful as the sun.
Let us now pass rapidly over the few intervening days, and start afresh from July 17th. So much energy and determination had been displayed by all hands, that long before most ships have half thought about the matter we were ready for sea. In the short space of twelve days, so far as we were concerned, we were quite capable of voyaging to the moon—given a water-way by which to reach her, especially with such a chief as "Energetic H." at the helm.
On the morning of the 17th, there being nothing further to detain us in Hamoaze, steam was got up, and ere long we were leaving, for a few years, the old and familiar "Cambridge" and "Impregnable," the one-time homes of so many amongst us; and bidding king "Billy" and his royal consort a long good bye! until Devil's Point hides from us a picture many of us were destined never to behold again.
Ere long the booming of our heavy guns, as we saluted the admiral, announced that we had dropped our anchor for the first time in the Sound.
After testing speed on the measured mile, powder and shell, and other explosives, were got on board and safely stowed, though it would appear that the engineer authorities were not satisfied with the results of the steam trial. A second trial was therefore deemed necessary, and on this occasion a sort of fete was made of it; for numbers of officials and un-officials, with their lady friends, came on board to witness the result. The day was beautifully fine, and the trip a really enjoyable one—the cruising ground lying between the Start and Fowey.
July 22nd.—The "long-expected" come at last, namely, the admiral's inspection.
There is a purely nautical proverb, or, at any rate, one which is so common amongst sailors, that it may be considered as such, which says "Live to-day live for ever;" one of those expressions which, somehow, everybody knows the meaning of, but which none seem to be able to render intelligible. Well, this idea is peculiarly applicable to admirals' visits; for if one can manage to live through such an atmosphere of bustle and worry, such rushing and tearing, such anxiety of mind, and such alacrity of movement as follows in the train of the great man, then surely existence at any other time and under any other conditions is an easy matter.
It was with peculiar feelings, then, that we received the august Sir Thomas, over our gangway. Nor were these feelings modified by the knowledge that Admiral Symonds is a thorough old "salt," a tar of the old school; and, as such, is, of course, au fait with the weak points in a ship's cleanliness and manoeuvring. His inspection was, I believe, extremely satisfactory.
We hoped that with the departure of the admiral we should have been permitted to land earlier this evening, as a sort of reward for our late exertions, especially as we have not seen our homes and families by daylight for some considerable period. Imagine, then, our feelings when a signal was thrown out at Mount-Wise that we were to perform some evolution, which would consume all the remaining hours of light. But the little cherub on the royal truck, which, according to Dibdin, is perched at that commanding altitude, especially to look out that squalls don't happen to Jack, came to console us in the—at other times unwelcome—shape of a deluge of rain. Thus we got ashore earlier, though, as a set-off against so much happiness, wetter men.
On July 26th orders came that we were to proceed to Portsmouth, to take in our armament of torpedoes, and in a few hours the Start was growing small astern as we took our way up channel. We were only a night at sea, but that a dirty one—not rough, but foggy—such as one usually encounters in this great commercial highway. Early on the following morning the Isle of Wight lay abeam, and the view from the sea was most lovely: the white cliffs of the island, packed in layers like slices of cake, presenting a learned page out of the book of nature to the curious. In passing Sandown Bay we caught a distant view of the operations for raising the "Eurydice." Our thoughts naturally took a melancholy turn, for many of us had lost comrades—some few, friends—in that ill-fated ship. But I think one of the leading characteristics of the sailor is the ease with which he throws off melancholy at will. The fact is, he encounters danger so frequently, and in so many varied shapes and forms, that if he put on depressing thoughts every time he is brought face to face with it, then he would be for ever clothed in that garb.
With a pausing tribute to the dead, and many a silent prayer, perhaps—for sailors can and do pray—we steamed into Spithead, forgetting, in all probability, the Eurydice and all connected with her.
As our torpedoes were all ready for us, it was not long before they were on board and fitted in their places. Our ship was not originally intended to carry these murderous weapons, so it was necessary to pierce ports in her sides, two forward and two aft, that they may be discharged. The staff of the torpedo school brought with them twelve of these novel fighting machines, at a cost of about L300 each, though L500 is the price paid to Whitehead's firm at Fiume; but as the English Government has the authority, with certain limitations, themselves to manufacture the torpedo, they cost England the former price.
After a short trial of the discharging gear outside the circular forts we shook hands with the land of smoked haddock and sour bread, and trimmed sails for the west, reaching the Sound by the following morning, when coaling lighters attached themselves to us before you could say Jack Robinson.
Work is again the order of the day; for coaling a large iron-clad over all means some exertion I can assure you. It is most unpleasant work, nevertheless it has to be done, so we set to work with a will. Dirty as the ship was, and dirty as we all were, from the copious showers of diamond dust falling everywhere, yet nothing could daunt our friends from paying us the usual dinner-hour visit.
It was a curious spectacle to witness that farewell visit, to see coal begrimed men coming up from below, reeking with sweat, to clasp the fair hand of a mother, to snatch a kiss from the soft cheek of a sister or sweetheart, or to feel the lingering embrace of a wife.
"Then the rough seamen's hands they wring; And some, o'erpowered with bursting feeling, Their arms around them wildly fling, While tears down many a cheek are stealing."
"Now we must leave our fatherland, And wander far o'er ocean's foam."
GOOD BYE TO ALBION! SOUTHWARD HO! GIBRALTAR.
Farewell, farewell! The last words have been said! How we would have put off that last hour; how we would have blotted it out, if, by so doing, we might have avoided that farewell. I never before realised how impressive a sailor's parting is. Was it really but a few hours since that loving, clinging hands rested within our own, that we heard the scarcely breathed words which still linger in our ears? How like a dream it all seems, and how like a dream it must continue to be, until we shall once more hear those voices and feel those hands.
Thus felt we as on the morn of August, 4th, 1878, just one month from the hoisting of the pennant, we rounded the western end of Plymouth Breakwater, en route for the land of the Celestials. It was Sunday, and never Sabbath broke fairer than that one, or sun shone more auspiciously on the commencement of a voyage.
Our friends, I doubt not, are casting longing and tear-bedimmed eyes after us; and many a handkerchief flutters its good bye long after objects on the shore have ceased to be distinguishable. Let us leave them to their tears; for us the sterner realities of life. We are not going away for ever, I trust; and England's sailors are patriots enough to feel that their own land, and mothers, wives, and sisters are the dearest and best in the world. With a short silent prayer, commending them to God's protection, we take a last look for good and all, at old Rame Head, and endeavour if we can to banish melancholy.
But are we really at sea? for the ship is so steady, and the water so smooth, that, without the sense of sight, we have no perception of motion. Sea voyages are, as a rule, uneventful and monotonous—to the seaman, at any rate, and ours was no exception.
A few days after leaving Plymouth we were fairly in the bay so dreaded by ancient mariners, and which is popularly supposed to be for ever
"Upheaving, downrolling tumultuously."
Many a yarn have I heard old salts spin of this special and favourite abode of the god of storms: how that the seas were so high that in the valleys between the wind was taken completely out of a ship's sails; then, fearful lest each successive wave would engulf her, her trembling crew see her up-borne with terrible force, and once more subject to the full fury of the blast: how that no bottom was to be reached by the heaviest of leads and the longest of lines,—and such-like awe-inspiring wonders; or, as that most observant of naval poets, old Falconer, graphically puts it—
"Now quivering o'er the topmast wave she rides, Whilst beneath the enormous gulf divides. Now launching headlong down the horrid vale, Becalmed, she hears no more the howling gale; Till up the dreadful height again she flies, Trembling beneath the current of the skies."
We probably crossed Biscay during the time the presiding restless spirit was taking holiday or sleeping; for a lake could not possibly have presented a smoother surface. Shoals of porpoises, trying their rate of speed under our bows; the dull flop of a solitary sea-bird astern, seeking sundry bits of biscuit or other waste; and the everlasting rythm of the engines were the only occurrences to mar the sameness of this part of our voyage.
Internally all the activity usually displayed on board a British man-of-war was being carried on incessantly; nothing was neglected, and the captain soon led us to see that "thorough" was his motto, and that for him there were to be no half measures. Nor did he, during the time he was with us, ever require of us more than he was ready to undertake himself. He set us such an example of zeal and activity, that though we might not altogether have approved, yet we were bound to admire it.
It is the fourth day of our voyage, and we are in sight of the high land of the Torres Vedras, at the mouth of the Tagus. Far, far away in the background, like a magnificent panorama, rise the high, time-worn summits of the Sierras of Spain. On approaching near enough to distinguish objects we discovered several large baronial castles, or convents, perched high up on bold pinnacled crags, in positions most inaccessible and impregnable. One goes back, in fancy, to the feudal days, and recalls those heroes of our boyish imaginations to the times when
"Knights were bold and barons held their sway,"
with all the consequent ills of that system of government.
Our sails are filled with the balmy breath of Portugal's orange groves as we continue our southward way. Cape St. Vincent soon rises, Dungeness-like, right ahead, and we call to mind that this was the scene of one of England's great naval victories. These rocks, so still and peaceful now, have resounded to the din of deadly strife, when, in the year 1797, a Spanish fleet, of twenty-seven sail, tried to wrest the dominion of the seas from its lawful holders, the English fleet, under Sir John Jervis, numbering only half that of the enemy.
Next, never to be forgotten Trafalgar is reached. Trafalgar, glorious Trafalgar! a household word so long as England shall endure. How our thoughts love to dwell on the deeds you witnessed our fathers do, every man of whom was a hero.
And now arrives Sunday, August 11th, on which day, after having been favoured with exceptionally fair weather, Gibraltar, with its mighty rocky fortress, heaves in sight.
Before we arrive at the anchorage I would beg a slight indulgence of my readers whilst I twist a yarn about "Gib.;" and as, I think, much of the interest attaching to a place or object is due to a knowledge of its previous history, I purpose to give just a rapid and cursory glance at a few of the leading events connected with the past of the places we visit.
Gibraltar is of Moorish origin, having been named after the famous Saracen chieftain, Tarik, who made this rock the starting point of his conquests in Spain. Hence it was called Gib-el-Tarik—the hill of Tarik—further Europeanized into the modern Gibraltar. This magnificent natural fortress rises perpendicularly to a height of 1300 feet from the purple waves of the Mediterranean. It and the peak Abyla, on the opposite (African) coast, were styled by the Greeks, in their poetical language, "the pillars of Hercules;" whilst the strait between is said to have been executed by the same man of muscle, to wile away the tedium of an idle hour.
The remnants of this now almost-forgotten race—the Saracen—are still to be found on the northern seaboard of Africa, in the kingdom called Morocco, where they strive to eke out a scant existence from the arid plains of that parched and burning clime.
The events I have recorded above happened hundreds of years ago. Let us leap the gulf of time, and see if there be anything else worthy of note or interest as bearing upon Gibraltar. I think there is—much that is interesting to Englishmen. In 1704, Sir George Rooke and Admiral Byng had made several attempts to engage the French fleet, but had signally failed. Deeming it undesirable to return to Plymouth in this inglorious manner, the two leaders determined to win laurels for themselves and fleet somehow and somewhere—it mattered not where, and they decided on making a bold attempt on Gibraltar.
It was during this memorable attack that the signal gallantry of the Royal Marines displayed itself in so brilliant and wonderful a manner—gallantry which has shed such lustre on the annals of naval warfare, and gained for them a name and a place second to none in the British army.
In 1713, on peace being proclaimed, the fortress was ceded to England in perpetuity; but the Spaniards had no intention of abiding by a treaty wrung from them at such a cost. The result was that several subsequent attempts were made to regain the place. At length, in the years 1789-93, occurred that memorable siege—the greatest, perhaps, on record—when a mere handful of British soldiers, under General Elliott, successfully withstood a siege of three years' duration, which settled at once and, let us hope, for ever the question as to who were henceforth to be masters here. But it is a bitter pill to the Spaniards; and even now they can scarcely realize that it does not belong to them. The Spanish people are continually being buoyed up with the pleasant fiction, that it is only lent to its present proprietors; for in all documents relating to Gibraltar, or in all questions raised in the Spanish parliament touching that place, the British are referred to as being only "in temporary possession of Gibraltar."
The view of the town from the bay is rather pleasing. Before us and far away to the left, till hid by an eminence, the houses stand out boldly, terrace above terrace, against the rocky background—their white mass and gaily-colored verandahs glistening in the sunbeams.
To prevent loss of time, instead of anchoring we were at once secured alongside the jetty, thus offering a fine opportunity for sight-seers, who speedily throng the wharf. A most motley gathering that same crowd, a few were undoubtedly British, therefore nothing need be said of them—a few more, half-blooded Spaniards; and as we shall become better acquainted on our visiting the town, we will pass them without comment also; but one remarkable race, which has its representatives amongst the sea of faces before us, needs a few words of remark. Their proud, commanding bearing, clearly-cut features—as if just from the sculptor's chisel, their sallow complexion—almost approaching a saffron hue, all are new to us. Red fez caps on a close-shaven head, loose flowing scarlet tunics, bare legs, and sandalled feet—these clearly betray their oriental origin. Who are they? Reader, a few pages back I endeavoured to claim your interest in a people who once owned half Spain—the Moors: these before you are some of their descendants, and are a portion of the army of the Sultan of Morocco, here for the purpose of receiving instruction in gunnery. Though they have such proud looks they are extremely bashful and restive under our gaze, constantly shifting their position to escape our scrutiny; as for making a sketch of one, that is nearly impossible, for immediately he sees you put your pencil to paper he vanishes in the crowd, as though he had detected you levelling a revolver at him.
The other dwellers on the soil are a strange mixture of the Mediterranean race; and as it is impossible to describe them, or say what they are, we will just be content with the title they are proudest of—the reptilian one of "rock scorpions"—a tough, hardy people, though, notwithstanding their doubtful ancestry.
In my description of places I shall always assume that about twenty or thirty of my shipmates accompany me in my strolls,—we shall get along much pleasanter, and enjoy ourselves much better thus than if we were scattered without any end in view: besides, it will be much less difficult for me, and I shall be enabled to get rid of that objectionable personal pronoun, first person singular, nominative. I will, therefore, with your kind co-operation, introduce you to the first of our series of rambles.
The climate is beautiful and the air most exhilirating, two, at any rate, of the attributes to an enjoyable walk already manufactured for us. Passing out of the Dockyard precincts we are at once in the English quarter. As I said before, the houses are constructed in terraces: hence we find ourselves continually mounting flights of steps to get from one street to another, so that there is really little inducement for pedestrians to move out of doors at all. Vegetation is very scarce, a want we can scarcely be surprised at when we consider the soil. Of course, that camel of the vegetable world, the cactus tribe, has its representatives in this arid, parched earth, where, seemingly, it is impossible anything else can take root.
As we approach the rising ground, which hides a portion of the town from our view, we observe the walls of an old ruin boldly outlined against the pure blue of the sky. This is all that now remains of a Moorish castle, the last existing monument of that race in Gibraltar.
But we must hurry on, for we have a lot to do: amongst other things, a climb to where that flag flutters indistinctly in the breeze. After sundry twists and turns, now up these steps, now down this street, or that, we find ourselves at the beginning of the ascent, and in as rubbly and dusty a pathway as one would wish to traverse. What with the ruts worn by the rain, and the tearing up of the ground by the passage of heavy ordnance, it would be a difficult matter indeed to select any particular line of march and call it a road. Travellers ordinarily engage mules for the journey; we sailors scorn any such four-footed assistance, though the next time we voyage this way it will be as well to remember that ankle boots are preferable to "pursers' crabs." As we advance, the sun's rays are beginning to get unpleasantly warm, whilst the sand most persistently ignores all the known laws of gravity, by fixing itself in our eyes, mouths, and nostrils.
Herds of goats, with their attendant shepherds, occasionally cross our path, changing their pasturage. Query, what do they live on? I don't think that any of our party have yet seen anything green since we started, not a blade of grass nor even a moss to relieve the stony reality of the hard rock.
With what a sigh of relief and satisfaction we reach the top, and enter within the welcome shade afforded by the signal-house. Refreshments are eagerly sought after, anything to wash the dust out of one's mouth. There is no lack of drinks here, very fortunately; beer and stout, and something—which being put into lemonade bottles passes, I suppose, for that beverage—are speedily, greedily, gulped down our parched throats. The supposed lemonade which, by special desire, fell to my lot, was enough to engender thoughts of disloyalty to a certain lady and her cause in the mind of the stoutest champion of the league; and I took considerable credit to myself that I passed scathless through such a trying ordeal. What stuff! Just imagine, you who are drinking your stout with such keen relish, and smacking your lips in such evident satisfaction, imbibing a liquid as hot almost as the surrounding air, and so insipid that I have tasted medicines far more palatable. Opportunely I call to mind a proverb of our Spanish friends yonder, "The sailor who would caulk his boat must not turn up his nose at pitch;" and as, figuratively speaking, I want to caulk mine, I make a virtue of necessity, and the obnoxious liquid vanishes.
Having regaled ourselves at a very moderate cost, all things considered, we are invited to insert our names in the visitors' book. To satisfy a curiosity we possess we turn back over the pages, to see who has honored this height with their presence. We find princes from Germany, grandees from Spain, professors from America, naval officers of almost all nations, and ladies not a few. One person of a witty and poetical turn thus records his and his friends' visit:—
"April 17th, 1878.
Three friends this day Walked all the way To the signal station; There was W. T., With his chum, C. G., And R. H. of the British nation."
After such an enjoyable rest, suppose we just step outside on the terrace, and have a look around whilst we "do" our tobacco.
We are at a height of 1255 feet above the level of the sea; and the fatigue of the ascent is more than compensated by the view of the splendid natural panorama, spread out like a map around us. The bay of Gibraltar, with the houses of the town of Algeciras, are distinctly visible; so, too, is the southern range of the Ronda mountains, the purple Mediterranean, with the immense jumble of Afric's sparkling shores, the Atlas mountains, the Neutral ground, and the Spanish lines. These are some of the objects which never tire the eye. The precipices below us are amazingly steep, in some cases the heights even overhang. Many precious lives were lost through inadvertent steps during the first occupation; and this suggests to me a story I have read somewhere, and which I will ask your pardon for telling you.
A young officer of the garrison, who with a brother officer was on guard one day, suddenly missed his companion; and on retracing his steps a little he saw his poor friend's mangled body about 400 feet below. The sub, however, made no reference or allusion to this accident in his report. His commanding officer, on being informed of the sad business, immediately summoned his subordinate before him, and demanded an explanation of his conduct, the following dialogue taking place between them:—"You say, sir, in your report, 'N.B.—nothing extraordinary since guard mounting,' when your brother officer, who was on guard with you, has fallen over a precipice 400 feet high and been killed! call you this nothing?" Our sub, who hailed from 'auld reekie,' thus replied, "Weel, sir, I dinna think there is onything extraordinary in that; had he fa'n doon a precipice 400 feet high, and not been killed, I should ha'e thocht it vera extraordinary indeed, and would ha'e put it doon in my report!"
I think we have found the down journey not nearly so difficult or wearying as the ascent, for we are in the town ere we are aware of it, and following in the wake of a throng of people, seemingly all heading in one direction. As we have still a few hours left us we will accompany them, and make a study of Spanish life by gaslight.
Graceful, black-eyed women, instinct with loveliness and vivacity, claim our first notice—first, because they are ladies, and, secondly, because of their becoming attire and the natural grace of their movements; for theirs is "the very poetry of motion." We have all possibly seen pictures of Spanish women, and may have, no doubt, remarked the head-gear they were depicted with. The flowing lace adornment, reaching from the head to the shoulders, and from thence thrown in graceful folds over the back and one arm, is called the "mantilla," and is the characteristic costume of the ladies of Spain. Each carries a fan in her hand—no lady is dressed without it—which they use, not so much for the purpose of cooling themselves as to convey the subtle emotions of the Spanish female mind. It seems to do the duty of eyes, though they possess very beautiful eyes, too. What I mean is, that whereas we in our colder climate generally indicate love, passion, or melancholy by means of the eyes principally, and through the facial muscles generally, these ladies interpret all this through the agency of the fan. So skilled are they in its use, that there is scarcely an emotion, it is said, which they cannot render intelligible by this means.
To say that we passed them without an impertinent stare is to confess at once that we are not sailors. This want of manners, or seeming want, is excusable, I think, insomuch that in our everyday life we see so little of them, that when we do fall across "the sex" we regard them more in the light of curiosities than tangible flesh and blood like ourselves. I see, too, that some of the more susceptible of our party are looking behind them. "Remember Lot's wife," and remember, too, the blue-eyed girls of your village homes whom you parted from so recently; for the Spanish maids, with all their charms, will scarcely bear comparison with our bonnie English lasses.
We have said something of the "senoras," now a word for the "senors." The dress of the men is as picturesque and gaudy as that of the ladies is not; in the particular, indeed, the sexes seem to have usurped the other's rights. Young Spanish swells, in colored velvet breeches and tastefully embroidered leggings, scarlet silk sash around the loins, and irreproachable linen, with, here and there, one with the far-famed guitar, improvising amorous nothings for the ear of some susceptible damsel, abandon themselves to the luxury of the hour in true Spanish style.
But what is this? Whither has the crowd conducted us? Surely the fairies have been at work! In other words, we have wandered into the Alameda, or Public Gardens. I beg to recall a statement which I fear I made somewhat rashly a few pages back, in which I said that Gibraltar could not possibly yield any green thing, owing to its miserable soil. I find I am wrong, for here before us is a perfect greenery. Stately trees, beautiful blossoms, fragrant and gaily-flowered shrubs, ferns and grasses—all are here in abundance. How charming it all looked by the light of many colored lamps! These gardens are evidently the favorite promenade of all classes of the people—the Spanish don, the English officer, the Southern Jew, and the swarthy African—all find a place in its walks, and glide along its various avenues in twos or threes, according to taste. The strains of the Garrison band, too, invite us to linger yet, as the sweet airs of the reminiscences of Scotland whisper among the branches. Sombre-clad priests, in long togas and shovel hats, bustle about here and there, now talking cheerfully to one lady, now looking correction at another; but all enjoying themselves with as much evident pleasure as their more mundane flocks.
The boom of the Citadel gun cuts short all our pleasing reflections, and we may (very unwillingly it must be confessed) tear ourselves away from this happy place.
On arriving at the Dockyard gates we are summoned to give the pass-word by the vigilant guard before we are allowed to pass the ponderous portal. Those who have read Captain Marryatt's delightful story, "Peter Simple," and I should hope there are few sailors who have not, will perhaps recall the amusing scene which took place on this very spot between lieutenant O'Brien and the soldier on guard.
Our days at pleasant "Gib." are drawing to a close. I feel assured that we shall carry with us, in our voyage to the far east, many pleasing recollections of Gibraltar—its balmy air and genial climate—its abundance of grapes, melons, and oranges. Would we could send some to our friends in England.
Melita! The glory of a triumph clings, odorous as incense, Around thy hero dead!
UP THE MEDITERRANEAN.—MALTA.
With the dawn of August 15th we were rounding Europa Point, and leaving Gibraltar far away astern. On our starboard hand three or four luminous points in the atmosphere indicate the position of the snow peaks of Atlas, the range itself being lost in the distance.
We chanced on a favoring breeze, so all sail was spread to help us against the strong five knot current always setting out from this sea. I cannot tell with what feelings you entered upon this, the greatest highway of commerce in the world. For all of us it possesses a certain interest, but to some more so than to others. I refer to those who love to wander in imagination amidst the departed glories of Greece and Rome—empires which lived, moved, and had their being when our forefathers were but tattooed savages.
As we advance, the sea begins to widen, the mountainous outline of the Spanish coast trends boldly to the northward; whilst the African shore grows indistinct and flatter, save where here and there some mighty peak rears its head from out of cloudland. Since leaving "Gib." we have been under the escort of shoals of porpoises, who ever and anon shoot ahead to compare rate of speed; or, by way of change in the programme, to exhibit their fishy feats under the ship's bows. Whether there be any truth in the mariners' yarn, that the presence of porpoises generally indicates a change in the wind, I will leave for you to form your own opinion; but certain it was, that on the present occasion, the wind did change, and to a "muzzler" illustrating in the most practical manner that our ship could be just as lively on occasion as other pieces of naval architecture. The stomachs of some of our younger hands, too, seemed to have suddenly acquired a sympathetic feeling with the movements of the ship, which, strangely enough, impressed them with a desire to reveal what they had had for dinner. The ship, though, dashed onward like a mad thing, regardless of the agony she was inflicting on some of her human parasites.
This was but the commencement of our sufferings for now the heat was beginning to annoy us. To us who could go on deck when we wished it was bad enough, but to those poor fellows who had to swelter and toil in the stokehole it must have been very trying, though compared with what was yet to come this was a mere bagatelle. We had encountered that blasting wind known as the "sirocco"—the scourge of the Mediterranean—which after gathering force and heat in the African deserts comes with its fiery and sand-laden breath to sap the moisture from all who have not the natures of salamanders. Fortunately we soon passed beyond its sphere of action.
Darkness rapidly sets in in these regions of eternal summer. The sunny shores and genial climes of the Mediterranean, where the very touch of the air seems a perfumed caress, lack only one thing to make them a paradise. Those pleasant hours which obtain in our less favoured land after the sun has set, and which we call twilight, are entirely unknown here, hours which England's youths and maidens generally appropriate to themselves, and which, in after years, recall some of the sweetest memories of their lives. Fancy a day deprived of such hours! No sooner has Phoebus veiled his glorious beams than there is a general demand for candles, and we find our liberal supply of two 'dips' a very inadequate apology for about four hours' illuminating purposes on a draughty deck.
But we must haste on our way past the Tunisian Coast, past Galita, onward through fleets of lateen rigged piratical looking crafts, with snowy sails and bird-like movements, dashing their white wings in the surge. We must not dwell too long on this peaceful and pleasant shore, for Pantellaria—an island of more interest in one sense—begins to rise ahead. This, in all probability, is the "Calypso's Isle" of the classics, but now the less poetical "Botany Bay" of the Italians. I should think that a few years' compulsory residence here is a thing to be desired rather than not, for it is a delightful spot enough, a sort of embryo continent, and nature seems to have achieved here some of her grandest works in the smallest possible space and with the least possible amount of material. As we near its shore we catch a glimpse of a pure white town, gracefully reclining on the slopes of a hill at the head of a perfect miniature of a bay. Artistically the effect is very pleasing, the glistening white houses seem as if embowered in the darkest of green foliage, each roof, each angle standing out most distinctly. Much as we regret it we see charming Pantellaria vanishing astern, for our engines will not cease their everlasting plunges to satisfy any weaknesses of ours.
How wonderfully strange and new everything seems to us; the sea, the land, its peoples, all so different to England; even the very heavens shed milder lights, have purer depths of colour. At night the stars shine out larger and with greater brilliance than we are wont to see them. Our old friend, the Great Bear, still remains true to us, though he keeps shorter watches in our southward way, others less loyal, forsake us altogether, yet in exchange if we get new forms they are not less beautiful.
Brilliant as are the skies the sea is equally so, for there seem as many gems beneath as above us; we appear to be cleaving our way through a yielding mass of liquid gold. Every dash the ship makes she seems to set the sea on fire, throwing starry sprays far over our heads on to the deck where the drops still retain their light.
At early morning on August 22nd, a great jabbering outside the ship, as though a colony of monkeys had encountered another babel, announced that we were at Malta. Boats by the hundred swarm around us, and never was seen such a gesticulating, swearing crowd, as their occupants, nor such pushing and hauling, such splashing and wrangling, and even fighting to maintain their stations alongside. One's eyes cannot fail to be arrested by these boats, but the colouring of them is what attracts particular attention. We get here our first idea of the criental love for colour, though at Malta the idea is exaggerated, because the colours do not blend harmoniously. For instance, the same boat will be painted with emerald green, vermillion, cobalt, and chrome yellow, put on without the slightest regard to effect or harmony. The eye on the bow is universal, no waterman would dare venture from the shore without such a pilot.
These little crafts, in addition to their legitimate use, have a secondary, though very important one, that of advertising mediums, not unworthy the genius of our American cousins. To select an example here and there. One boat bearing the characteristic and truly Catholic legend "Nostra Senora di Lordes," also sets forth another legend to the effect that "Every ting ver cheap here Jack," though what is cheap and where is not so clearly indicated; on another this extraordinary piece of English, "Spose you cum my housee, have got plenty." Of these same "housees" numerous tales are told; of one in particular, where you can obtain "ebery ting" except the right. You ask for beef steak, or ham and eggs, and the master of the house, in the blandest manner and with much shrugging of the shoulders, will answer you, "Me ver sorry, hab got ebery ting but that," and ditto to your next order, he has also the sang froid to tell you on your complaining of the toughness of that succulent, that his cabbage must be tender because it has been boiling ever since the "Caledonia" went home. If you don't enjoy it after that, all that I can say is you are over fastidious.
But to return to the busy and noisy throng alongside. Its composition differs very little from that usually encountered by ships of war in all parts of call. The washerwomen are the undoubted masters of the situation, and carry all before them. The alacrity with which they scramble up the perpendicular side of the ship is simply astonishing. It struck me that we could not do it with greater ease, notwithstanding that we possess the advantage of unfettered extremities. In the twinkling of an eye they are below, and besieging us in our messes, holding out for our inspection greasy looking rolls of paper, purporting to set forth in English, French, Italian and Spanish, and even in Greek and Turkish, the bearers' exploits amidst the soap suds. To read the English certificates while at breakfast is highly amusing and provocative of much merriment. Here is one. The writer is one "Bill Pumpkin," H.M.S. "Ugly Mug," who states that the holder, Mary Brown (who does not know Mary the ubiquitous Mary), "has a strange knack of forgetting the gender of a shirt, for it not unfrequently happens that you may find her with that article of male apparel on her own 'proper person,' otherwise, he says, she is all that can be desired." The said Mary B being unable to read English—or for that matter any other language—holds up her paper in triumph. Happy, ignorant Mary!
Having squared yards with the black-eyed nymphs (all the shady side of thirty), we are next assailed with the milkmen, who not only bring their cans, but also their goats on board. When the can is run out "nanny" is milked, and sent about to look for a feed under the mess-tables, a locality she is thoroughly acquainted with from frequent experience.
Our first breakfast in Malta is over, a meal not easily to be forgotten, for fruit is plentiful and good and very cheap, and milk equally so, and cans full of the latter added to the chocolate make that nutritious beverage truly delightful, while luscious grapes supply a wholesome and refreshing dietary.
Now for a run on shore. Valetta, or la Valette, in honor of one of the most famous of the Grand Masters, the modern capital of Malta, is a fairly large place, though by no means extensive enough to be styled a City, except out of courtesy. How dingy the buildings and how dusty the pavements from the crumbling masonry. The houses are so lofty that the strip of blue sky can scarcely send its light to the bottom, whilst the upper storeys have such an affectionate leaning towards each other, that the wonder is that any mortar is capable of restraining their eagerness to fall on each other's necks. But all the houses are not like this, and the character of the masonry speedily improves on emerging from the gloomy alleys into the magnificent Strada Reale, more of a roadway than a street, for though there are many grand edifices and numerous shop fronts, yet one may walk to Floriana on the one hand, and to Civita Vecchia on the other, without turning to the right or left.
This crowded thoroughfare presents at this special time in particular a most cosmopolitan appearance, for we have dropped in at Malta during the sojourn here of the Indian Contingent, brought to Europe in anticipation of difficulties with Russia.
The Maltese themselves, though unquestionably a small race, are wiry and capable of enduring great hardships. They are very skilful artisans, the filigree jewellery of their silversmiths, for example, is unequalled as a work of art by anything of its kind in Europe. They are splendid divers, and seem equally at home in the water as on the land; the smallest coin thrown overboard being brought to the surface in a twinkling. Whatever their original language might have been, that which they now possess is a most animated one; for they throw their spars about in a most alarming manner in emphasis of what they say, inclining one to the belief that sailors have of this people, namely—if you tie a Maltese hands he can't speak.
Just a word or two descriptive of the sexes: the men we will dismiss with a few words; they are, as I said before, below the medium height, with dark Italian faces and eyes, but otherwise not remarkable. The women are, though, or perhaps I ought to have said their appearance is. Landing in Malta for the first time, a stranger is apt to conclude that every woman he sees is either a sister of mercy or a nun. This is due, in a great measure, to their national costume, about the only national possession they can now boast of, which consists of a loose gown of rusty black and a hood-like covering over the head and shoulders, also black. This construction throws their face—a rather comely one—into deep shade, almost as sombre-looking as their dress. No doubt if they could be induced to wear the various so-called aids to nature which our ladies use to make "a good figure," the Maltese women might do as an advertisement for Worth; but under the present system of dressing well, I would guarantee to produce as shapely a structure out of a stuffed bread bag with a spun-yarn around its middle.
If a people be religious, in proportion to the number of priests and sacred edifices seen in their midst, then ought the Maltese to be pre-eminently a devout people; for it seems as if every third building is a church, and every other man one meets a priest; whilst the incessant and not always melodious clanging of bells all day long, is a constant reminder that there is no lack of opportunity for devotees.
So far as the outward appearance of the priests may be taken as the index to the man's worldly position, I should pronounce their calling anything but a lucrative one; for a more seedy-looking class is rarely to be met with. Their care-worn faces and rusty and tattered garments testifying that in Valetta, at least, the proverbial easy and jolly life of the priesthood does not prevail.
In spite of the lack of good building material, there are some very fine buildings in Malta—notably, the palace, the cathedral of San Giovanni, and the opera house. The palace has its immediate entrance from the Strada Reale, by means of an arched gateway of Oriental design, whilst iron railings extend along the whole front of the structure on either side the gate. Within is the palace square, beautifully and tastefully laid out with rare exotics and flowering trees, floral designs and fish ponds. A grand marble stairway indicates the direction we are to take to reach the interior of the pile, at the head of which is a sort of vestibule, or hall, when all further progress is barred by the presence of one of the palace functionaries. We explain our errand, said functionary demurs, pulls a long face, makes sundry excuses as to its not being the proper day and so on, whilst all the time he is making a mental calculation as to the value of the expected "tip." The workings of that man's mind are as patent as the day. An English shilling speedily smooths the wrinkles off that puckered brow as if by a miracle, and makes us the best of friends. What wonders the little medallion portrait of the Majesty of England will work, what hearts soften, what doors unlock, and what hypocrites make! With a flattering and obsequious bow our guide leads the way.
The palace was built by the Knights as their regal residence, and as everything in it has been most religiously preserved, the various rooms will present a pretty fair picture of the manner of life of these soldier priests, whose portraits adorns the walls around. To the frame of each a metal label is attached, on which is an inscription in Latin, setting forth the patronymic and virtues of the original. Some are represented in military armour with bold martial air, whilst others are depicted in the more peaceful garb of priests, or civilians, but all wear the sash and cross, peculiar to the Order, the latter symbol—known as the Maltese Cross—being found on all their coins and possessions.
Out of the portrait gallery folding doors admit us to the Parliament House, where the Government officials assemble for the conduct of State business. The four walls are enriched and adorned with wonderful specimens of needlework, testifying to the patience and skill of the knights' fair friends.
But the most interesting place of all is the armoury, a vast hall at right angles to the picture gallery, in which are weapons and arms of all sizes, workmanship, and ages; from the light rapier and fencing helmet for friendly practice, to the two-handed sword and iron casque of thirty pounds weight, for the more deadly strife. Some highly interesting relics are here, too, the original document whereby Charles V. tendered the island to the Knights—a consumptive looking cannon with very large touch-holes and very small bores—stone shot, iron shot, lead balls, all arranged in neat designs. Suits of armour of delicate filigree work, in silver and gold, in glass cases; other suits less costly, though of equal ingenuity, ranged along the walls in erect positions, spear in hand, or leaning on a huge sword. From the size and weight of some of these suits, I opine, the Knights must have been men of large build, a medium sized suit being rather the exception than otherwise.
After a glance at the old, lumbering State carriage of Bonaparte, with its faded, gilded trappings and armorial emblazonry, we haste away to view something else.
Next in importance to the Palace, comes the Church of St. John (San Giovanni), by far the finest building in Malta. The interior is very gorgeous, with gilded vaulted roof, finely carved pulpits, rare old crimson tapestries and monumental floor, resembling one enormous heraldic shield. Beneath, lie the mouldering remains of the defunct knights, the arms of each being represented on the slabs above them, in the most delicate and accurate designs, in some cases stones more rare and costly than marble being used.
At the end of the eastern aisle is the Chapel of the Madonna, guarded by massive silver bars, saved from the rapacity of Napoleon's soldiers by the cunning and ingenuity of a priest, who, perceiving that Bony's followers had very loose ideas of mine and thine, painted the rails wood colour, and thus preserved them inviolate.
Once more in busy, bustling, Strada Reale, with its gay shops filled with a tempting display of gold and silver filigree work, corals and laces, the latter very fine specimens of needlework indeed.
Thus far, we have performed all our movements on foot, but now, as we have to go a rather long distance over very uninteresting ground, we think it more convenient to sling our legs over a horse's back, for the journey to Civita Vecchia, better known to sailors as "Chivity-Vic." This was the former capital of the island, though now, as deserted almost as Babylon, its streets overgrown with grass, its buildings crumbling ruins, and echoing to the tread of our horses' hoofs. But it is not so much to view these ruins that I have brought you here, as to visit the Catacombs, or subterranean burying grounds of the early inhabitants. These are not much compared with those at Naples, or Palermo, for instance, but to those who have seen neither the one nor the other, they will present all the charm of novelty. Though only a charnel house it is laid out with great care, in street, square, and alley, just like the abodes of men above. The bodies are mostly in a fine state of preservation, reposing in niches cut out of the dry earth, some of the tombs being double, others, again, having an additional crib for a child. It is next to impossible that organic matter can fall to decay, owing to the extreme dryness of the place, and, except that the colour has changed a little, the dead people around would have no difficulty in recognizing their own faces again if brought suddenly to life. Some of the bodies seem actually alive, a deception further borne out by their being clothed in the very garments they wore when sentient, joyful dwellers, in the city above. It is worthy of remark that, though there is but one and the same means of ingress and egress, the air is wonderfully pure, and free from any offensive odour or mustiness.
Its extreme dryness though, seems somehow to have a reciprocal effect on the palates of our party, for I hear vague murmurs of "wanting something damp," which, by-an-bye, break out into a general stampede. If there be any bye-laws in existence against hard riding, we are happily ignorant of them, nor have we the slightest sympathy with anxious mothers, whose dusky and grimy offspring are engaged at a rudimentary school for cookery in the mud of the road. Sailors, as a rule, don't note such items.
August 25th, to-day, after a rather short stay, we looked our last, for some years, on "the fair isle"—St. Paul's Melita.
"Yet more! the billows and the depths have more! High hearts and brave are gathered to thy breast They hear not now the booming waters roar, The battle thunders will not break their rest."
PORT SAID.—THE SUEZ CANAL.—VOYAGE DOWN THE RED SEA.—ADEN.
The voyage from Malta to Port Said was accomplished without any notable event, except that the heat goes on steadily increasing.
August 31st, to-day, we made the low-lying land in the neighbourhood of Port Said, and by noon had arrived and moored off that uninteresting town. Coaling at Port Said is effected with great rapidity, for ships have to be speedily pushed on through the Canal to prevent a block, thus, by the following afternoon, we commenced our first stage of the Canal passage, under the escort of one of the Company's steam tugs, for ships of our size may not use their own engines for fear of the "wash" abrading the sandy banks.
The character of the scenery soon changes, and we seem to have an intuitive perception that we are in the land of the Pharaohs. On the one side, far as the eye can reach, and for hundreds of miles beyond, a desert of glistening sand is spread before us, for the most part level and unbroken, but occasionally interrupted by billow-like undulations, resembling the ground swell at sea. Here and there a salt pond breaks the monotonous ochre of the sand. These ponds are, in the majority of cases, quite dry, and encrusted with a beautiful crystalline whiteness resembling snow, making even the desert look interesting. On the Egyptian side, a series of gem-studded lagoons stretch away to the haze of an indistinct horizon, the mirage reproducing the green and gold of the thousand isles in the highly heated atmosphere.
By 6 p.m. we had reached the first station, or "Gare," when we brought up alongside a jetty for the night. When darkness had set in, the wild melancholy howl of the jackal was borne across the desert by the evening breeze, a sound sufficiently startling and inexplicable if you don't happen to know its origin. What these animals can find to eat in a parching desert is, and remains to me, a mystery.
On pushing on the following morning, a quail and several locusts flew on board; interesting because we are now in the region of Scripture natural history. As I was desirous of procuring a specimen of the Scriptural locust, I expressed a wish to that effect, and soon had more of them than I knew what to do with, till, in fact, I thought the Egyptian plague was about to be exemplified. I will here take occasion to thank my shipmates for their kindly and ready assistance, in helping me to furnish a cabinet with natural history specimens. Nothing living, coming within their reach, has ever escaped them; birds, insects, fish, reptiles, all have been laid as trophies before me to undergo that metamorphosis known as "bottling." I verily believe that had an elephant insinuated himself across their path, he would have found his way into my "preserves."
This was an extremely quiet day, everybody indulging a siesta under double and curtained awnings, until about 5 p.m., when bump! a dead stop, and a list to port. We are aground. But grounding on such a soft bed is not a serious affair, and by extra exertions on the part of "Robert," our tug, and a turn or two of our own screws, we were soon in deep water again. This was but the initiation ceremony; ere the termination of our commission we were destined to become passed masters in the art of bumping, as the sequel will show.
At this juncture the Canal ceases to be such, as it enters that natural watercourse—the Bitter Lakes. Herein, we are at perfect liberty to use our own engines, whereby we are speedily across their glassy surface, and entering on to the last portion of the passage. On rounding a point on the opposite side, a scene, truly Biblical, met our view—two Arab maidens tending their flocks. Perhaps they had taken advantage of the absence of man to uncover their faces; if so, they were speedily careful to rectify the error, on catching sight of such terrible beings as bluejackets; but not before we had caught a glimpse at a rather pleasing face, with small, straight nose, rosy lips, splendid teeth, the blackest of eyes, and the brownest of skin. The veils, which serve to hide their prettiness, are real works of art, composed of gold and silver coins, beads and shells, tastefully and geometrically arranged on a groundwork of black lace. After repeated hand kissing from our amorous tars—an action whose significance is apparently lost on these damsels—we bid good bye to the "nut-brown maids," and at 5 p.m., on September 4th, enter the broad waters of the Gulf of Suez.
The great feature of the town of Suez is its donkeys; wonderfully knowing creatures, who, with their masters, look upon every visitor, as in duty bound, to engage their services. To say them nay, and to suggest that your legs are quite capable of bearing you to the town, is only provocative of an incredulous smile, or a negative shake of the head. Never was seen such patience and importunity as that displayed by boy and beast. The most striking thing about them is their names—shared in common—which furnish one with a running commentary on current events in Europe. For example, there were the "Prince of Wales" and "Roger Tichborne," "Mrs. Besant" and the "Fruits of Philosophy"! The "mokes" are so well trained—or is it that they have traversed the same ground so often? that, in spite of all tugging at the reins, and the administration of thundering applications of your heel in the abdominal region, they will insist upon conducting you to a locality well understood, but of no very pronounced respectability. I did hear—but this between you and I—that a rather too confiding naval chaplain, on one occasion, trusted himself to the guidance of one of these perfidious beasts, and even the sanctity of his cloth, could not save him from the same fate.
September 7th. We may now be said to have entered upon the saddest and most unpleasant part of the voyage, that of the Red Sea passage.
The day after sailing, the look-out from the mast head reported a vessel aground off the starboard bow, with a second vessel close by, and, seemingly, in a similar predicament. Our thoughts at once adverted to the two troopships which left last night, so we hurried on, and, arriving at the spot, found we had surmised correctly. One only, the steamer, was aground; her consort, the sailing ship, being at anchor a safe distance off. We lost no time in sending hawsers on board, but it was not until the third day that we were successful in our efforts to haul her off.
Our voyage resumed, we had scarcely got out of sight of the two ships, when the sudden cry of "man overboard!" was heard above the din of flapping canvas and creaking blocks. To stop the engines, gather in the upper sails, let fly sheets, and back the main yard, was the work of seconds; and before the ship was well around—smart as she was on her heel, too—the life-boat was half-way on her errand of mercy. Young Moxey was soon amongst us again, none the worse for his involuntary immersion, although his bath was more than an ordinary risky one, owing to the proximity of sharks.
From that exalted observatory, the mast head, we noticed the red colour from which the sea derives its name. The surface has not a general ruddy tinge, as we most of us thought it had,—only here and there blood-red patches appear, mottling the vivid blue surface.
September 11th.—My "journal" is a blank for three whole days, owing to the intense heat, which is simply unbearable. I can only give our friends a faint idea of what it was like, by asking them to imagine themselves strapped down over a heated oven whilst somebody has built a fire on top of them, to ensure a judicious "browning" on both sides alike. Sleep is out of the question, "prickly heat" is careful of that. As may be supposed, the sufferings of the deck hands—bad enough as in all conscience it was—were not to be compared with the tortures endured by the poor fellows in the stoke-hole, who had to be hoisted up in buckets that they might gasp in the scarcely less hot air on deck. From bad, this state of things came to worse—men succumbed to its influence, the sick list swelled, and, finally, death stalked insidiously in our midst.
September 13th.—The first victim was John Bayley, a marine, who died to-day after an illness of only a few short hours. One curious thing about this sickness is that those attacked by it exhibit, more or less, symptoms of madness. One of my own messmates, for instance, whose life was preserved by a miracle, almost went entirely out of his mind. I will not dwell too long upon these sufferings, nor rekindle the harrowing scenes in your minds.
At sunset on the 14th the bell tolled for a funeral, as, with half-masted flag, and officers and men assembled, we prepared to do the last that ever poor Bayley would require from man. Funerals are solemn things at any time, but a funeral at sea is more than this—it is impressive and awe-inspiring, especially if there be others so near death's door that one does not know whose turn it may be next. Decently and in order the hammock-clad form is brought to the gangway, whilst the chaplain's voice, clear and distinct—more distinct than ordinary it seems—reads the beautiful service for the Church of England's dead. A hollow plunge, a few eddying circles, at the words—"we commit his body to the deep"—and he is gone for ever.
Almost simultaneously with departure of one, another of our shipmates, Mr. Easton, the gunner, died.
Providentially for all of us, a squall of wind struck us at this point of our voyage—a squall of such violence, whilst it lasted, that the air was thoroughly purged of its baneful qualities, and restored again to its elasticity.
But what a God-send it was! The iron hull of our ship, always unpleasantly hot in these latitudes, was rapidly cooled by the deluge of rain which came with the wind. Renewed life and vigour entered into our emaciated frames, and revivified men marked for death; and was it not delicious to rush about naked in the puddles of rain on the upper deck!
Well, all things mundane have an end, even the most unpleasant—though it must be confessed their finality is generally lingering. Thus our desolate voyage through that seething cauldron, known to geographers and schoolboys as the Red Sea, at length approached its termination.
Our grim shipmate, death, did not go over the side till he had marked yet another victim for his insatiate grasp; for, to-day, Mr. Scoble, one of our engineers, died. He, too, was buried at sea, though we were only a few hours from port. On the morn of this day, September 17th, we passed the strait of Bab-el-mandeb—Arabic for "Gate of Tears"—an extremely appropriate name, too, I should think.
Aden, which we reached the same evening, has a very bleak and barren appearance, and is, seemingly, nothing better than a volcanic rock. Its apparent sterility does not, as a matter of fact, exist; for it produces an abundance of vegetables of all kinds, splendid corn with stalks above the ordinary height, fruits, roses, and other delightful and highly-scented flowers, in rank abundance. There is something thriving and go-a-head about the place, in spite of unkindly nature. It has one terrible drawback, for rain falls only at intervals of years, sometimes taking a holiday for three or even more years. The people are busy and bustling—troops of camels, donkeys, and ostriches continually stream in and out the town, testifying to an extensive trade with the neighbouring states. A peculiar race of people is found here, the Soumali—tall, gaunt-looking fellows, with a mass of moppy hair dyed a brilliant red. This head-gear, surmounting a small black face, is laughable in the extreme. Plenty of ostrich feathers may be obtained of the Arabian Jews; and though, of course, you pay sailors' prices for them, yet even then the sums given are not nearly so much as would be charged in England for a far inferior feather.
On the eve of departure we were visited by a novel shower, composed of sand and locusts, from the African desert. These things, unpleasant as they seem to us, are, we are told, of as common occurrence here as rain showers at home.
"As slow our ship her foamy track Against the wind was cleaving, Her trembling pennant still look'd back To that dear isle 'twas leaving."
ACROSS THE INDIAN OCEAN.—CEYLON.—SINGAPORE.—A CRUISE IN THE STRAITS OF MALACCA.
September 21st.—Having, as it were, given the go-by to two continents, we commence on an extended acquaintance with a third.
With sails spread to a S.W. monsoon we rapidly speed over that glorious expanse of luminous sea where it is ever summer, and in whose pearly depths living things innumerable revel in the very joy of existence.
Though hot, this part of the voyage is not unpleasant, for a cooling breeze is constantly setting down the hatchways from the sails. What one would rather be without, though, is that tropical tinting known as the "prickly heat," which now begins to get troublesome; for, like boils, its spots generally select those parts of the epidermis where they are likely to become of the greatest nuisance, making the friction of garments almost intolerable; but there, one can't have everything.
When the sails are trimmed with the same regularity day after day, with never a tack nor sheet started, existence does not offer much of variety, so that, like Columbus' sailors, we were glad to welcome even a gale of wind. Now, a rolling and pitching ship is capital fun if you can manage to stay the surgings of a revolutionary stomach; but it sometimes happens that you can't, when, to vary a line in "In Memoriam," "you heave responsive to the heaving deep." Then, too, we are as hungry as "sea dogs." Ten or twelve days on sea rations are not to be envied, especially as there is plenty of room for improvement in the dietary. It is all very nice, nay, pleasant even, to feel hungry when there is a prospect of a good "feed" in the tin dish; but how frequently do we find a "southerly wind" prevailing in that receptacle for "panem;" and what is there, I ask, in "Fanny Adams" alternated with "salt junk?" In the one, nausea; in the other, mahogany.
Friday, October 14th.—Just at our breakfast hour we sighted that oriental fairy garden, Ceylon's isle; and though we must be from fifteen to twenty miles off, a curiously-constructed native vessel, with perhaps a dozen persons on board, has just put out to welcome and pilot us to land. A boat so different to all other boats that I must say a word about it. It is a sort of double canoe, constructed of the hollowed out trunk of a cocoanut tree, to which is attached a couple of outriggers, with a second canoe-shaped structure at their extremities, but of lesser dimensions than the boat proper, and differing from it, too, in not being hollowed out—in fact the latter is used only as a balance for the other. When it comes on to blow with any force, the Singalese boatmen may be observed standing out on their outriggers, to counteract the force of the wind on the high sails. The stronger the breeze the further out the men go. Their mode of expressing the intensity of a breeze is significant. The Singalese don't say as we do, it is blowing stiff, or half a gale, or a gale; but that it is a "one-man wind," or "two," or "three-man wind," as the case may be. I believe a similar idiom is used by the natives of the Sandwich isles.
On nearing the land we could see how really delightful this ocean gem is. One mass of gorgeous, perfumed foliage blazes suddenly on the sight from the midst of the sea; feathery palms, broad trembling leaves, and groves of lofty cocoanut trees springing from the midst of richly-flowering shrubs.
From the inner harbour the view of Galle is very fine. For miles on either hand stretches a palm-fringed shore, with the noble cocoanut trees so close to the water's edge, that at times the sea seems to dash right into their midst. Cocoanut trees, like volcanoes, seemingly prefer the proximity of the sea to a more retired position.
The whole scene reminds one of the beautiful places visited by captain Cook, in his voyages. Even the boats are laden with the self-same royal fruits—great green cocoanuts, pine apples, bananas, plantains, and yams.
All those curiosities for which India is famous—every conceivable article which the fancy or ingenuity of man can possibly fabricate out of such commodities, as sandal wood, ebony, ivory, and porcupines' quills, richly and delicately carved, may be had here for a mere song if you possess only patience. Amongst other things there is a brisk trade carried on in precious stones. Some of the dealers in this article have found their way to our lower deck, and proceed to pull little parcels, containing sparkling and pellucid gems from their inner garments. There, before us, in their downy nest, lie rubies, sapphires, opals, and many more real or fictitious stones, seven-eighths of which are probably manufactured at Birmingham, though Ceylon abounds in real gems. It may, I think, be safely conceded that "Jack" very rarely drops in for one such. The dealers ask most fabulous prices for their wares—so many thousand rupees; but after haggling with you for about an hour or so are glad enough to part with them at your own price—a proof, should you need it, of the genuineness of your purchase.
We are rather dubious at first about entering the canoes, for they are so narrow as scarcely to admit of our broad hams being comfortably stowed. However, by dint of a little lateral pressure in that quarter, we at length manage to wedge ourselves in. We find the motion pleasant enough—a sense of security growing with experience.
I suppose we are not the first, nor, unless some sudden calamity undertake the place, are we likely to be the last, who have remarked how exceeding annoying the "boys" at the landing-place are. Guides they call themselves; sailors, in their excellently-terse and rotund way, call them by another name, which certainly does not commence with a "G." These wasps know just sufficient of English to make you disgusted with your mother tongue. The ordinary and generally conclusive argument of applying the toe of one's boot to the region of their quarter galleries does not seem to be effective here. It is one of those things one has to put up with.
The town follows the sinuous windings of the shore for upwards of a mile and a half, under an arcade of cocoa palms, which forms one of the finest promenades imaginable. Under this quivering canopy the fierce rays of the outside sun filter through—a soft, sheeny, mellow light—making his tropic rays deliciously cool, at the same time imparting to them a mystic coloring of gold and emerald green in all their wonderful combinations and capabilities of tone, impossible to set down in writing.
A noticeable thing about all this wonderful profusion, is the number of beautiful shrubs, principally spice or perfume bearing, and the grand harmonies and contrasts of colour they present. Here, for example, is the nutmeg, with its peach-like fruit; here the cinnamon, a tree whose foliage embraces the most delicate gradations of colour, from olive green to softest pink; there an aromatic gum tree, the dark-leaved coffee tree, the invaluable bread fruit, and scores of others beyond my botanical ken.
The houses, examined in detail, are not by any means the captivating objects we took them to be from the ship; and they certainly don't improve on a closer acquaintance. The air in the vicinity is thick and heavy, with a rancid odour of cocoanut oil, emanating from the hair and bodies of the local humanity. Their dwellings are constructed of humble enough materials, in all conscience; for of the four sides, three are of mud, the fourth being left open for the purposes usually supplied by doors, windows, and chimneys amongst ourselves. A sort of blind of cocoanut-fibre covers this aperture to about half way, so that one can easily see what is going on within. Near the door reclines an indolent, almost nude man, in the most convenient attitude for sleep; in the far corner his wife or slave—for the names are synonymous—toiling and moiling at a stone mill—a gaunt, angular, ugly woman, with great rings in her nose and ears, and on her wrists and ankles. Perfectly nude children and mangy-looking curs have all the rest of the apartment to themselves; and from the way in which they are enjoying their gambols, one may judge that for them life is not an unpleasant thing on the whole. The number of brown imps scattered about the streets, threatening to upset your every movement, speaks highly of the prolificness of Singalese matrons; and if a numerous progeny is a desirable thing, then these mammas ought to consider themselves blessed amongst women. Their general aspect, though, conveys the opposite impression.
Everybody is addicted to the vice of chewing the betel-nut, a proceeding which has the effect of dyeing the teeth and lips a brilliant crimson, and gives to this people the appearance of an universal bleeding at the mouth.
Having completed a hasty perambulation of the town we drive boldly into the undergrowth to where a strange-looking building lies half-buried in the foliage. It proves to be a Buddhist temple, an octagonal-shaped structure with a bell-like roof. As we enter within its precincts, boy priests are particularly careful to obliterate the marks of our heathen feet on their beautiful floor of golden sand. Inside are eight figures of the good Buddha, alternately standing and sitting, depicted with that calm, inscrutable countenance so remarkable in the image of this deity wherever this religion prevails. Before each figure is a small altar, littered with flowers, the most conspicuous blossom being the lotus lily, the symbol of this faith. Other than these devotional oblations there is little to be seen; what part in the ceremonies the priests take, or where they perform their functions, does not appear.
At the gate of the Court on our passing out, stands a bold, yellow-robed priest, with a metal salver in his hand, suggestive of donations. We told the old gent with naval bluntness that we were not in the habit of aiding the Society for the propagation of paganism—a remark, by the way, which it was as well, perhaps, he could not understand.
Sunday, October 6th.—Though sailors are excellent singers—especially of hymn tunes—I never before heard a hymn rendered so effectively on board a man-of-war as that beautiful composition by Bishop Heber, commencing
"What though the spicy breezes Blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle,"
and which was one of the appropriate hymns for our morning Service.
October 8th.—Towards evening we bade good-bye to this favoured land, and stood away to the eastward. We had made good an offing, and set everything aloft snug for the night, when heavy volumes of steam were found to be issuing from the regions of the engine-room. A steam pipe had burst, a fracture of so little moment that after a short delay to effect repairs we were able to resume our voyage. But though the damage was not serious, so far as the ship was concerned, to us, personally, it was a matter of some consequence, on account of our bags and chests being stowed immediately over the fractured pipe; and in order to secure our property, we were compelled to make a blind rush for it, re-appearing from our vapour bath, as red as boiled lobsters.
A splendid eight knot breeze brought us, after a few days, off Acheen head, in Sumatra, and at the entrance of the Straits of Malacca. And here, the monsoon which had favoured us over so many miles of the pathless ocean, suddenly forsook us. Sails were of no further use, and we braced up our sweat glands for four or five days of increasing heat. In obedience to the demands of an imperious, ever-rising, thermometer, we reduced our rig to the least possible articles consistent with decency and the regulations of the Service—which latter, by the way, discriminates not between the caloric of the north pole and that of the equator.
Just at this time, we encountered a phenomenon of frequent occurrence in this region, namely, water-spouts. One of these tremendous, funnel-shaped, columns of water actually burst just ahead of us, drenching our decks in showers of spray, and causing the water to seethe and vex itself as though some monster were lashing it into fury.
October 18th.—The scene which presented itself to our eyes, as we entered the narrow, gem-studded channel which leads up to Singapore was such that I trust it may live long in my mind as a memory picture of grateful and refreshing beauty. I don't know that it will compare with the mighty growth of Ceylon's forests, or with the variety and richness of its forms; but for mellowness of tint and harmonious blending of soft foliage, Singapore's park-like views seem to me, as yet, unrivalled. The channel is so narrow and its banks so high, that one is quite unprepared for the splendour which suddenly, like the shifting lights in a transformation scene, blazes out in all its tropic splendour. Now, the scenes depicted in the "Arabian Nights" seem to me not so impossible after all, and, except that gems don't grow on the trees, this fairy garden might well have stood in the writer's mind as his ideal of paradise.
Very reluctantly we turn away, as that grim reality, known as the Tangong Pagar coaling wharf, heaves in sight, and alongside which we are rapidly secured. Hundreds of coolies, in anticipation of our enormous wants—500 tons of carbon—are already thronging the jetty with their baskets of coal, which ere long, is rattling down our coal shoots.
The Malays, though labouring under the disadvantage of a bad reputation, are a well developed, muscular race, of a dark, copper colour. Dress does not trouble them much, for all that custom and society demand of them in this respect is a couple of yards or so of white linen about their lumbar region; the remainder of their sleek, oily bodies presenting the appearance of polished bronze. They are great divers, especially the youths and boys—I had almost said infants, for some of the little mortals can scarcely have passed the sucking age. Their stock of English is very limited: "Jack, I say jack, I dive," delivered all in one mouthful and with no regard to punctuation, being about the extent of their acquirements in our tongue.