For the benefit of the Red Cross Fund
Recollections of Calcutta for over half a century
By MONTAGUE MASSEY
THE LADY CARMICHAEL
THE FOUNDER OF THE BENGAL WOMEN'S WAR FUND
I think it would be advisable for me to state at the outset that these reminiscences are entirely devoid of sensational elements, in order to prevent any possible disappointment and remove from the minds of those, and I know several, who have conceived the idea that I am about to disclose matters that, as far as I am concerned, must for ever lie buried in the past. There are certain startling incidents still fresh in my memory that I could relate, but they would be out of place in a work of this nature. A considerable amount of the subject-matter contained herein is devoted to a descriptive account of the wonderful transformation that has overtaken the city since my first arrival in the sixties, and to the many and varied structural improvements and additions that have been, and are still being, made in streets and buildings, both public and private. The origin and conception of this little work is due to the inspiration of my friend Walter Exley of the Statesman staff. I had often before been approached by friends and others on the subject of writing and publishing what I could tell of Calcutta of the olden days, but I had always felt some diffidence in doing so partly because I thought it might not prove sufficiently interesting. But when Mr. Exley appeared on the scene last July, introduced to me by a mutual friend, matters seemed somehow to assume a different aspect. In the first place I felt that I was talking to a man of considerable knowledge and experience in journalistic affairs, and one whose opinion was worth listening to, and it was in consequence of what he told me that for the first time I seriously contemplated putting into effect what I had so frequently hesitated to do in the past. He assured me I was mistaken in the view I had held, and that what I could relate would make attractive reading to the present generation of Europeans, not only in the city, but also in the mofussil. I finally yielded to persuasion, and throwing back my memory over the years tried to conjure up visions of Calcutta of the past. A good deal in the earlier part refers to a period which few, if any, Europeans at present in this country know of except through the medium of books. The three articles published in the columns of the Statesman of the 22nd and 29th July and 5th August were the first outcome of our conversation. I then left Calcutta for a tour up-country as stated on page 28, and the work was temporarily suspended. It was not until the early part of September, when I had settled down for a season at Naini Tal, that I resumed the threads of my narrative. It was at first my intention to continue publishing a series of short articles in the columns of the Statesman, but as I proceeded it gradually dawned upon my mind that I could achieve a twofold object by compiling my recollections in book form in aid of the Red Cross Fund. Whether it was due to this new and additional incentive which may perhaps have had the effect of stimulating my mental powers I know not, but as I continued to write on, scenes and events long since forgotten seemed gradually to well up out of the dim and far distant past and visualize on the tablets of my memory. I was thus enabled to extend and develop the scope of the work beyond the limit I had originally contemplated. My one and ardent hope now is that the book may prove a financial success for the benefit of the funds of the Society on whose behalf it is published. That some who perhaps might not care to take a copy simply for its own sake will not hesitate to do so and thus assist by his or her own personal action in however small a degree in carrying on the good and noble work which must awaken in our hearts all the best and finest instincts of our nature, as well as our warmest and deepest sympathies.
I have to express my great thanks to Lady Carmichael for her kindness and courtesy in having graciously accorded me permission to dedicate the work to her on behalf of the Red Cross Fund.
My thanks are also due to my friend P. Tennyson Cole, the eminent portrait painter, who did me the honour of painting my portrait for the book at considerable sacrifice of his very valuable time. Unfortunately, however, it was found impossible to make use of the portrait, as the time at our disposal was too short to permit of its reproduction.
I am deeply indebted to the Honourable Maharajadhiraj Bahadur of Burdwan who kindly placed at my disposal a collection of priceless and invaluable old views of Calcutta which are now quite unobtainable and for having had copies printed off from the negatives and for granting me permission to reproduce them in my book.
I have also to thank my friend Harold Sudlow for designing the sketch on the outer covering, which I think considerably enhances the appearance of the book. I must further acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. J. Zorab, Superintending Engineer, Presidency Circle, P.W.D., who refreshed my memory as to certain details in the alteration of some of the public buildings, while furnishing me with information as to some others, with which I had not been previously acquainted. Last of all, though by no means the least, my special thanks are due to my friend C.F. Hooper, of Thacker, Spink & Co., who has rendered me invaluable assistance in the compilation of the book, and without whom many more defects would have been apparent. I shall for ever appreciate the valuable time he expended and the amount of trouble he took, which I know he could ill afford owing to the very busy life he leads.
April, 1918. M.M.
PART I. PERSONAL
PART II. TOPOGRAPHICAL
PART III. STREET AND GENERAL STRUCTURAL IMPROVEMENTS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
Government House, North aspect
Government House, South aspect
Old view of Esplanade, East, showing Scott Thomson's Corner
Old River View, showing sailing ships
Royal Calcutta Turf Club's Race Stands, Viceroy's Cup Day
The Old Race Stand
Distant view of Race Stands
The Medical College Hospital
Scene in Eden Gardens
Present-day view of Eden Gardens
The Banyan Tree, Royal Botanical Garden, Seebpur
Palm Avenue in Botanical Gardens
St. Paul's Cathedral
Interior of St. Paul's Cathedral, showing eastern half
The Burning Ghat, Nimtollah
View of the River Hooghly, with shipping from Fort William
A Street in Burra Bazaar
Remains of St. James's Theatre, Circular Road
Remains of Col. Turner's House, 2, Wood Street
The "Govindpur" on her Beam Ends
Some Effects of the Cyclone at Garden Reach
S.S. "Thunder" on shore, at Colvin Ghat
Old view of Government House, showing Scott Thomson's Corner
Present view of Government House, showing Esplanade Mansions
Old view of Government Place, East, and Old Court House Street
Ball Room, Government House, Calcutta
Throne Room, Government House, Calcutta
Old view of Government Place, East, showing Gates of Government House
Present-day view of Government Place, East, and Old Court House Street
Howrah Bridge, from the Calcutta side
View of Harrison Road from Howrah Bridge
Old view of Bank of Bengal
Present view of Bank of Bengal
Frontage of Writers' Buildings from East to West
Distant view of Writers' Buildings, taken before the Dalhousie Institute was built
Town Hall, Calcutta
Site of Black Hole of Calcutta
Old Court House Street, looking south
Government Place, East, at the present day
Bathgate & Co.'s premises, Old Court House Street
Old premises of Francis, Harrison, Hathaway & Co., Government Place, East
New premises of Francis, Harrison, Hathaway & Co., Government Place, East
Pehti's premises, Government Place, East
Dalhousie Square, looking north-east, showing tank
Old premises of Ranken & Co.
Present premises of Ranken & Co.
High Court, erected 1872
Small Cause Court
Treasury and Imperial Secretariat Building, at the present time
Department of Commerce and Industry, Council House Street, built on site of Old Foreign Office
Foreign and Military Secretariat, built on the site of the "Belatee Bungalow"
Dalhousie Square, showing Post Office and Writers' Buildings
Old view of the Great Eastern Hotel
Present view of the Great Eastern Hotel
The old Royal Exchange
The new Royal Exchange
The Exchange—Mackenzie Lyall's premises from 1888 to 1918
The Exchange—Mackenzie Lyall's old premises in Dalhousie Square
The Imperial Museum
Municipal Offices, at the present day
Prinsep's Ghat from the land side
Mullick's Bathing Ghat, Strand Road
Currency Office, built on the site of the old Calcutta Auction Company
Hamilton & Co.'s premises, Old Court House Street
Old view of Clive Street
Present view of Clive Street, showing Chartered Bank's premises on the right middle centre.
12, Dalhousie Square, East, showing West End Watch Co.'s premises
Smith, Stanistreet & Co.'s premises, Dalhousie Square, East
McLeod & Co.'s new premises, Dalhousie Square, West
Alliance Bank of Simla
Building erected by Martin & Co. containing these offices
Writers' Buildings and Holwell Monument
Esplanade East, showing tank now filled in
Old view of Esplanade, East, showing Dharamtala Tank
The Sir Stuart Hogg Market
Chowringhee, showing Tanks opposite Lindsay Street and Bengal Club
Modern view of Esplanade, East, showing Tramway Junction and Shelter
View of Tramway Company's Esplanade Junction before shelter was built
The five houses in Chowringhee that formed the nucleus of the Grand Hotel
W. Leslie & Co.'s premises, Chowringhee
W. Leslie & Co.'s premises, Chowringhee
Esplanade Mansions, built by Mr. Ezra on the site of Scott Thomson's Corner
Thacker, Spink & Co.'s new premises, completed in 1916
Walter Locke & Co.'s premises, Esplanade, East
Mackintosh Burn & Co. and Morrison and Cottle's premises, Esplanade, East
Bristol Hotel, Chowringhee
Corporation Street, showing Hindustan Buildings—Proprietors, Hindustan Co-operative Insurance Society, Ld.
Old site of the present Continental Hotel, Chowringhee
Hotel Continental, Chowringhee
The Old United Service Club
Present-day view of United Service Club
Park House, Park Street, William Heath's Premises
The "Haunted" House, corner of Sudder Street, Chowringhee
G.F. Kellner & Co.'s premises in Chowringhee.
Army and Navy Stores, Chowringhee
Chowringhee Mansions, built on the site of Old United Service Club
Hall & Anderson's premises, at the corner of Park Street
Old Bengal Club
New Bengal Club
Bishop's Palace, Chowringhee
RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CALCUTTA
When I first came to Calcutta things were entirely different to the present day. There was, of course, a very much smaller European population, and every one was consequently pretty well known to every one else, but at the same time the cleavage between the different sections of society was much more marked than it is now. Members of the Civil Service were very exclusive, holding themselves much more aloof than the "heaven-born" do to-day; the military formed another distinct set; while the mercantile people, lawyers, barristers, and others not in any government service, had their own particular circle. This marked cleavage did not, however, prevent the different "sets" from having quite a good time, and as I have said, even if they did not mix together very closely and intimately, we all in a way knew each other.
Forty or fifty years ago, Calcutta was not so lively as it is to-day, especially in the cold weather, but there was one thing in those days which we do not see now. I refer to the regal pomp and circumstance which characterised Government House, and all the functions held there. The annual State Ball was an event which was always looked forward to, and it was a ball at which one could comfortably dance, instead of the crush it had become in the decade prior to 1911.
Looking back, one of the first things that strikes me is the change between then and now in the matter of locomotion. In my early days there were no taxi-cabs, trams, nor even fitton-gharries, the only conveyances for those who had not private carriages being palkis and bund-gharries. It would seem strange to-day to see Europeans being carried about the streets in palkis, but half a century or more ago they were by no means despised, especially by the newly-out chokras, whose salary was not at all too high. They had to choose between a palki and a ticca-gharry, which were very much alike in shape, the difference between them being that the one was carried on the shoulders of coolies, and the other drawn by a horse.
The private conveyances of those days were as a rule quite elaborate affairs, and it used to be one of the sights of the evening to go on "the course," which embraced the Strand and the Red Road, to see the richer inhabitants of the city taking their evening drive. Later, however, the haut ton, evidently thinking the Strand was getting too plebeian, confined their evening drive to a place in the stately procession up and down the Red Road, which thus became "the course."
That term must not be taken in its modern sense, however. If one spoke about "the course" to-day, it would be understood to mean the racecourse, but in those days it meant the venue of the evening drive, There was then, as now, a racecourse in Calcutta, but, though on the present site, it was, as might be expected, nothing like so elaborate. There was only one stand, and that was opposite the old jail; there was no totalisator and no book-makers. The Racing took place in the early morning, from about 7 o'clock till 9 or 9-30. The only public form of gambling on the racecourse then were the lotteries, which were held the night before at the race-stand, and they were quite big ones, numbers of them on each race. In addition, there was, of course, plenty of private wagering between one man and another. Very often in the cold weather racing would be held up by dense fogs so that for a time it was difficult to see across the breadth of the course, the consequence being that we were on those mornings late for office. Even in those far-off days professional jockeys were employed, but principally in the cold weather. The riding at the monsoon meetings was mostly confined to G.R.'s.
SOCIAL AND OTHER CLUBS.
Of other sport there was not much. There was no football, and no tennis clubs; but there were cricket clubs (Calcutta and Ballygunge), and the Golf Club, which had the course and a tent on the site of the present pavilion on the maidan, but there were few members and they used to spend their time sipping pegs and chatting more often than playing golf. Of course, there was polo for those who could afford it, but there was no Tollygunge Club, no Royal Calcutta Golf Club, and no Jodhpore Club.
As regards social clubs, there was the Bengal, which was then very much more exclusive than now, and into which it was difficult to obtain an entrance unless you had been a long time in the city and had a certain standing. The old Qui Hais who were members looked askance at young men. There was also the United Service Club which was at first confined strictly to I.C.S. men and military officers, but subsequently financial considerations led to its being thrown open to members of other services.
THEATRICALS WITHOUT ACTRESSES.
In those days, there was no Saturday Club, and we were dependent for our dancing on the assembly balls and private dances; the former used to be held at the Town Hall about once a fortnight. All people of any respectability were eligible to attend, and very pleasant, indeed, these assembly balls were. We used also to have concerts mainly given by amateurs, occasionally assisted by professionals, but there were no professional theatricals. The demand for this kind of entertainment was filled by the Calcutta Amateur Theatrical Society, which used to give about six productions during the cold weather season. People who flock to the theatres nowadays, especially in the cold weather, and see companies with full choruses will probably be surprised to hear that in our amateur performances there were no actresses. All the ladies' parts were taken by young boys, and I remember well in my younger days dressing up as a girl. I used to take the role of the leading lady, and I remember two of our most successful efforts were "London Assurance" and scenes from "Twelfth Night," in the former of which I took the part of Lady Gay Spanker and Viola in the latter.
At first our performances were given on the ground floor of where the Saturday Club now is, but after a time this was not found satisfactory. Then one of our most enthusiastic members, "Jimmy" Brown, who was a partner in a firm of jewellers, carried through a scheme for building a theatre of our own, and this was erected in Circular Road at the corner of Hungerford Street. Here we carried on until in the great cyclone of 1864 the roof was blown off and the building seriously damaged. We had, therefore, to move again, and went to where Peliti's is now, which was then occupied as a shop. After one season there, we were temporarily located in a theatre built in the old Tivoli Gardens, opposite La Martiniere. The "CATS," as we used to be designated, was a very old institution, and had been in existence some time before I joined up. They were very ably and energetically managed by Mr. G.H. Cable, assisted by Mrs. Cable, the father and mother of the present Sir Ernest Cable. They were affectionately and familiarly known among us all as the "Old Party and the Mem Sahib." He used to cast all the characters and coach us up in our parts, attend rehearsals, and on the nights of the performance was always on the spot to give us confidence and encouragement when we went on the stage, while Mrs. Cable was invaluable, more particularly to the "ladies" of the company. She chose the material for the gowns, designed the style and cut, tried them on, and saw that we were properly and immaculately turned out to the smallest detail. On performance nights I never had any thing before going on, and assisted by the aid of tight lacing I could generally manage to squeeze my waist within the compass of 24 inches. I recollect one evening when I was rather more than usually tightened up, I had in the course of the piece to sit on a couch that was particularly low-seated. I did not notice this for the moment, but when I tried to rise I found myself in considerable difficulty. I made several unsuccessful efforts, which the audience were only too quick to notice, and when I heard a titter running through the house, my feelings can be more easily imagined than described. However, after a last despairing effort I managed to extricate myself from the difficulty and get on my feet. Ever afterwards I used carefully to inspect the couches before the performance commenced. Amongst those who were members and associated with us were E.C. Morgan and W.T. Berners, partners in the then well-known firm of Ashburner & Co., who retired from business in the year 1880. The former has been Chairman of Directors of the Calcutta Tramway Co., I believe, ever since the company was incorporated, but I hear that he has lately vacated the position. Berners, I believe, has been living the life of a retired gentleman. I never heard that he renewed his connection with business affairs after he got home. The late Mr. Sylvester Dignam, a cousin of Mr. Cable, and latterly head partner of the firm of Orr Dignam & Co., the well-known solicitors, was also one of the troupe, and by his intimate knowledge of all matters theatrical contributed very considerably to the success of our efforts. I recollect he took the character of Dazzle in "London Assurance" and Mr. Cable that of "Lawyer Meddle," which latter was the funniest and most laughable performance I ever witnessed. We were all in fits of laughter, and could scarcely contain ourselves whenever he appeared on the stage.
Charles Brock, Willie and Donald Creaton, partners in Mackenzie Lyall & Co., who were my greatest friends, but alas! are no more, were very prominent members, and there is one more whom I must on no account forget to mention, and though he (or she) comes almost last, does not by any means rank as the least. I refer to "Jimmy" Hume, as he was then known to his confreres, but who is in the present day our worthy and much respected Public Prosecutor, Mr. J.T. Hume. In "London Assurance" he portrayed the important part of Grace Harkaway, and a very charming and presentable young lady he made.
But I must not forget to mention that his very laudable ambition to obtain histrionic honours was at the outset very nearly nipped in the bud. He, of course, had to disclose the fact that in his earlier life he had committed a pardonable youthful indiscretion and had had both his forearms fancifully adorned in indelible blue tattoo with a representation of snakes, mermaids, and sundry. A solemn council of the senior members of the company was forthwith held, presided over by the Mem Sahib, "Old Party," and "Syl" Dignam. After a good deal of anxious thought and discussion as to how the disfigurements could be temporarily obliterated some one suggested gold-beater skin, which was finally adopted and proved eminently successful. Not one of the audience ever had the slightest suspicion that his (or her) arms were not as they should have been, and such as any ordinary young lady would not have disdained to possess.
One of our most enthusiastic and energetic members was the late Mr. Charles Pittar, a well-known and much-respected solicitor of the High Court, and the father of Mrs. George Girard, the wife of our genial Collector of Income-Tax. He was on all occasions well to the front, and the services he rendered to the society on many momentous occasions were invaluable, more especially in "London Assurance," to which I have previously alluded. In fact, it is not too much to say that without him it would have been very difficult to stage the piece. As "Dolly" Spanker, my husband, he was inimitable, and brought down the house two or three times during the evening. He was also very great as "Little Toddlekins," a part that might have been specially written for him. The character is that of a stout, somewhat bulky and unwieldy young person who possesses an inordinate appreciation of her own imaginary charms. Her father, whom I might designate as a fly-by-night sort of a gentleman, a character which I once ventured to portray myself, is obsessed by the one thought of getting rid of her as quickly as possible, but all the would-be suitors the moment they set eyes on her beat a hasty retreat. There were, of course, very many more pieces that Mr. Pittar played in, but these two were the chef d'oeuvres of his repertoire.
As I am writing, the memory of another member of the company flits across my mind, in the person of the late Mr. H.J. Place, familiarly known as "H.J.," the founder of the well-known firm of Place, Siddons and Gough. Although he was never cast for very prominent characters, he was most useful in minor parts, and in other little ways helped the company along by his many acts of unselfish devotion.
I must now regretfully take leave of a subject which has always exercised a peculiar fascination over me, and I can truly say that those old theatrical days were amongst the very happiest of my life.
ADVENT OF THE "PROF."
A year or two later, the first professional theatrical troupe came out from Australia under the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, whom probably a few people may still remember. They erected close to the Ochterlony monument a temporary wooden structure, accessible by a steep flight of steps, and played in it for a few seasons, after which Lewis built the present Theatre Royal. He brought out several companies in successive seasons, and other companies also used to come and perform between-whiles, but only in the cold weather. Hot weather entertainments were practically unknown. With the advent of professionals, the Amateur Theatrical Association went out of existence, just as the starting of the Saturday Club later, mainly through the initiative of the Hon'ble Mr. Justice Louis Jackson, killed the assembly balls.
Then the Corinthian Theatre was built on the site of Dover's horse repository in Dhurrumtollah, and subsequently, on the site of the present Opera House, a smaller building was erected, in which an Italian Opera Company used to perform. When the late King Edward, then Prince of Wales, came out in 1875, the Italian Opera Company was playing there. The company's expenses were guaranteed before they came out, all the boxes and stalls being Tented at high prices, taken for the season. During the Prince's visit, Charles Matthews and Mrs. Matthews also came out with their company and gave several performances in the city.
EARLIER BUSINESS HOURS.
Turning from sporting and theatrical matters to the more important topic of business, one cannot help realising the difference between then and now. Business generally used to commence earlier than it does now and many of the European houses, particularly the Greek firms, opened their offices punctually at 9 o'clock, by which time both Burra Sahibs and assistants were at their desks. I have very often passed several contracts by the time offices open nowadays. The Hatkhola Jute dealers usually began the day's Work at 6 o'clock in the morning, and most of the buying by European houses was finished by 9 o'clock. There were in those days no gunny brokers, their services not being required, as the only Jute Mill then in existence was the Borneo Company, which was afterwards converted into the Barnagore Jute Mill Company.
Another thing which will strike the present-day broker as strange is that there was no Exchange where brokers and merchants could meet together. The only place approximating to it was a room in the Bonded Warehouse, which was set apart for the purpose and called the Brokers' Exchange. There brokers of all kinds used to meet each other, have tiffin, and write their letters and contracts. The stock and share brokers transacted their business in the open air in all weathers on a plot of land where James Finlay & Co.'s offices are now, and this was usually referred to as the "Thieves' Bazaar."
THE PORT CANNING SCHEME.
Speaking of business reminds me of the great excitement created by the Port Canning Scheme over 50 years ago. The rumour was spread abroad, as it has been more than once since, that the Hooghly was silting up and Calcutta as a port was doomed. The idea, which originated with a German, was to build a port with docks and jetties and all other conveniences at Canning Town which was then already connected with Calcutta by a railway. The Company was no sooner floated on the market than the wildest excitement ensued—people tumbled over each other in their mad desire to obtain shares at any price, and even high Government officials were known to have forwarded to the Promotor blank cheques for him to fill in the amount in the hope of being allotted original shares. The scrip changed hands at rapidly increasing prices, and it was no uncommon occurrence for shares to advance in the course of a day hundreds of rupees until they eventually reached Rs. 9,000 to Rs. 10,000, the par value being Rs. 1,000. I had one share given to me which I sold for Rs. 6,000. Of course the inevitable happened—Port Canning proved a dead failure and the slump was most disastrous, the shares rapidly declining from thousands to hundreds and even less.
Of course there were no telephones in the days I am writing about, and the telegraph was very rarely used. Business had not to be done in such a rush then, and in the ordinary way the post was quick enough. Telegraph charges were high, and it was only in matters of the utmost urgency that the wires were used by business people. Then there were only two mails a month. One fortnight the mails were sent direct from Calcutta by the P. & O. steamer from Garden Reach, and the next fortnight went across country to Bombay. The railway line did not extend right across the country then, and in places the mails had to be taken from one railway terminus to the beginning of the next part of the line by dak runners. I remember when I went home in 1869, I went by train as far as Nagpur, and from there had to go by dak gharry to join the railway again at another point about 150 miles away. This was, of course, before the Suez canal was opened, and after the round-the-Cape route had ceased to be the way to India. Mails and passengers went by steamer to Suez, and then by train to Alexandria, where they joined another steamer. Similarly the incoming mail came in alternate fortnights to Bombay and Calcutta, and the arrival of the mail at Garden Reach, particularly in the cold weather when all the young ladies came out to be married, was always a great occasion. All Calcutta used to gather at the jetty at Garden Reach to see and welcome the new-comers. Practically, the only steamers then were owned by the P. & O., Apcar & Co., and Jardine Skinner & Co., the two latter trading to China; Mackinnon & Mackenzie had one or two small steamers, but the trade of the port was carried on chiefly by sailing vessels. These used to lie three and four abreast in the river from the "Pepper Box" up to where the Eden Gardens now are, and they added considerably to the attraction and adornment of this particular section of the Strand. There were no docks or jetties, and all loading and unloading had to be done over the side into lighters and country boats.
Travelling in the mofussil in those days, as may be imagined, was not a pleasant and easy business. The Eastern Bengal Railway was only built as far as Kooshteah, and beyond that the traveller had to go by boat, bullock cart and palkigharry. Assam was quite cut off, and a journey up there was a serious undertaking. There were no railways or steamers, and the traveller had to go in a budgerow, a sort of house-boat, and the journey took at least a month each way. Tea was then, of course, quite in its infancy.
Of all the Viceroys in my time the most popular, officially, socially, and in every way, was Lord Mayo (1869 to 1872). He was essentially a ruler, a man of commanding presence and outstanding ability, a lover of sport of all kinds, in short a Governor-General in every sense of the word.
He never once allowed it to escape his memory, nor did he permit anyone else to forget, that he was the absolute and actual representative of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and that in him was personified the very embodiment of her rule and authority in India. He thoroughly understood the Indian appreciation of the spectacular, and this understanding was doubtless the reason for the punctilious dignity with which he invested all his public and semi-public functions, while the hospitality at Government House during his regime was truly regal. His statue on the maidan gives a good idea of his commanding appearance. It used to be one of the sights of the cold weather on State occasions, and a spectacle once witnessed not soon forgotten, to see Lord Mayo sally forth out of the gates of Government House. Seated in an open carriage-and-four, faced by his military secretary and senior aide-de-camp, wearing on the breast of his surtout the insignia of the Order of the Star of India, looking like what he really was, a king of men, and sweep rapidly across the maidan, almost hidden from sight by a dense cloud of the bodyguard enveloping the viceregal equipage, accoutred in their picturesque, long, bright scarlet tunics, hessian boots, and semi-barbaric head-dress, with lances in rest, and pennons, red and white, gaily fluttering in the breeze.
He was beloved by all who had the good fortune to be closely associated with him, and when he was struck down by the hand of a Wahabi life-convict on the occasion of his visit to the Andamans, in the cold weather of 1871-72, I have no hesitation in saying that all felt they had sustained a personal loss. I shall never forget the thrill of horror and grief that ran through the whole of the European community in Calcutta on receipt of the intelligence of his assassination, which was widespread, and which was also shared by the Indian element. His body was brought to Calcutta and landed at Prinseps Ghat, whence it was conveyed in State to Government House. It was a very solemn and affecting scene as the cortege slowly wended its sad and mournful way along Strand Road and past the Eden Gardens to the strains of the "Dead March in Saul," amidst the hushed silence of a vast concourse of people, both European and Indian, who had assembled along the route to pay their last tribute of respect to their dead Viceroy. Many a silent tear was shed to his beloved and revered memory. On the arrival of the body at Government House it was immediately embalmed, and lay in State for several days, being then transported to England. Thus passed away one of the noblest, most gallant and true-hearted gentlemen who ever ruled over the destinies of the Indian Empire.
A LADY MAYO STORY.
Lady Mayo had also a very proper and high conception of the dignity of her position and what was due to her as the consort of the Viceroy, and on one occasion she gave practical effect to her views. Her ladyship was one evening going for an airing, and Captain——, an A.-D.-C., who was a great favourite in society, and had possibly been a little spoilt, was ordered to be in attendance. He sauntered delicately and leisurely along to take his seat in the carriage wearing a forage cap. The moment Lady Mayo saw him she very politely informed him that when an aide-de-camp attended on the wife of the Viceroy it was incumbent on him to be attired in all respects as he would be when he was in attendance on the Viceroy himself, and requested him forthwith to make the necessary change. The captain, of course, had to obey, much to his chagrin, and he was never allowed to forget the incident by his friends in Calcutta society.
The next Viceroy to whom I would unhesitatingly award the second pride of place as regards popularity was the late Lord Dufferin, who by his courtly and charming personality appealed to, and won, the hearts of all who had the privilege of any intercourse with him. I very well remember the occasion on which I had the honour of seeing and speaking to him for the first time. I was standing talking to a friend looking on at a game of polo on the maidan. It was only a friendly match between the two Calcutta teams and there were very few spectators present. I happened to turn my head when I saw a gentleman approaching, whom I did not know. He came up to me and smilingly held out his hand, and at that moment it suddenly dawned upon me that I was in the presence of our new Viceroy, Lord Dufferin. He made a few pleasant remarks and then passed quietly on to another part of the ground. He had driven up quite unexpectedly and unostentatiously, and I did not see even an A.-D.-C. in attendance.
In addition to his own charming gifts, Lord Dufferin had the advantage of succeeding a Viceroy (Lord Ripon), who had embittered and aroused the enmity of the whole European community by using all the great powers at his command in obstinately persisting in foisting upon the country the most iniquitous and ill-advised measure conceivable, in spite of the strongest protests, both public and private. I refer, of course, to the obnoxious Ilbert Bill of sinister, worldwide fame.
By the provisions of this Bill, it was enacted that any native magistrate of a certain status should be empowered to try criminally, European-born subjects, I have never seen or heard such a storm of seething rage and indignation as then swept through the length and breadth of the land and which at one time threatened serious consequences. Fortunately at the head of the European non-official community we had in the person of Mr. Keswick, senior partner in Jardine Skinner & Co., then the premier firm in Calcutta, a man of undoubted ability and most forcible and independent character, who fought the battle against the Government in a most masterly manner. I think that it was due in a great measure to him that several members of the Government were won over to our side, notably Sir Rivers Thompson, then Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, who was seriously ill at the time, but rose up from a sick-bed to attend the Council and speak and vote against the Bill; also Mr. Thomas, lately deceased, the member for Madras, who cast aside all personal considerations of future advancement to enter an able and strong protest against this most iniquitous measure. I remember it was in contemplation to hold a monster meeting on the maidan in the big tent of Wilson's Circus which then happened to be in Calcutta, but in the meantime it was announced that wiser counsels had prevailed, and Lord Ripon had reluctantly climbed down, I believe, after most strenuous persuasion, and had consented to a compromise by agreeing to the introduction of a clause in the Bill conferring the right of option on European-born subjects electing to be tried or not by a native magistrate. Thus ended the most sensational and exciting controversy Calcutta has ever experienced, and one which, unfortunately, struck a note of discord between the European and Indian communities, the effects of which are still apparent, and in a measure marred that feeling of kindliness and mutual trust and good-will that formerly existed between the two races.
A MUCH-CHANGED CITY.
As for the appearance of Calcutta half a century and more ago, it was very different to what it is now, and there were, of course, none of the amenities of life which make the city a pleasant place to live in to-day, even in the hot weather and rains. There were no paved side-walks, the water supply came from tanks and wells, there were no electric lights or fans, and no telephone. The drainage system was of the crudest with open drains in many side streets. There were no "Mansions" or blocks of flats as there are now, and generally the city was a very different place to the Calcutta of to-day. The floods in the streets are pretty bad at the present time after a heavy monsoon storm, but nothing like what they were then, I remember going to office one morning after three days and nights of heavy rain, and at the cornet of Park and Free School Streets, where Park Mansions stand now, there was quite a lake from which as I was passing I was startled to see a tall form rise from the water. It was one of the masters of the Doveton College, who had taken his boys to bathe there, and the water must have been fully three or four feet deep!
The residential quarter was then, as now, "South of Park Street," with the difference that where Alipore Park now is was a big open field with a factory, which was called the Arrowroot Farm Rainey Park, Bally gunge, was a big building called Rainey Castle, standing in its own extensive grounds, owned by a Mr. Griffiths, and occupied as a chummery. On the other side was a large building with an enormous compound called the Park Chummery, now converted into the Park, Ballygunge, while Queen's Park and Sunny Park were waste jungly land.
SCOTT'S LANE MISSION.
There were no Canons at the Cathedral in my early days. The services were conducted as now, principally by the Senior and Junior Chaplains, the Bishop and Archdeacon occasionally taking part when in residence in Calcutta. Scott's Lane Mission was started in Bishop Millman's time, from very small beginnings, in the year 1872, by the late Mr. Parsons, former Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, and myself. How I became connected with the opening of the Mission Was in this wise. I happened at the time to be chumming with the Rev. Mr. Stewart Dyer, his wife and family, who was Junior Chaplain at the Cathedral, and he returned one morning from early service and informed me that the Rev. Mr. Atlay, Senior Chaplain, who subsequently became Archdeacon of Calcutta, also a personal friend of mine, had, in consultation with the Bishop, decided on starting a Mission in the poorer quarter of the town, and had fixed on the district known as Baitakhana, of which Scott's Lane formed the central portion, and had expressed a strong desire that Mr. Parsons and myself should undertake the preliminary work. I felt at first very diffident in the matter, as I had never had any experience of this kind before, but they so earnestly pressed the point upon me that I at last consented, and promised to do all in my power to carry out their wishes. We commenced in the first instance by making a house-to-house call upon all the people in the neighbourhood, and on account of our business engagements in the daytime this had to be done in the early morning.
As a rule, we started on our rounds somewhere about 7 A.M., and put in about a couple of hours' work. In our perambulations, we met, of course, all sorts and conditions of people, and one morning I recollect we got the surprise of our lives. We came across a large, wooden gateway, rather common in those days to a particular class of house, and forthwith proceeded to try to arouse the inmates. We knocked and waited for a long time and could get no answer, and were on the point of going away, thinking the house was empty, when all at once the gate was swung violently open, and a lady in deshabille, with hair hanging down her back, appeared before us almost inarticulate with rage, eyes blazing with passion, and demanding to know, in furious tones, what we wanted and meant by creating a disturbance in the neighbourhood at that hour in the morning, hammering at her gate in that manner. We were almost struck dumb, at least I was, but Mr. Parsons, I believe, managed to stammer out something or other, in the midst of which the gate was slammed to violently in our faces and we had to beat an ignominious retreat. It is, of course, needless to say we never repeated our visit nor tried to induce the lady to enter the fold.
After a little while, we made friends with a good many of the people round about, who were at first rather inclined to be shy and suspicious, but eventually we obtained promises that they would send their children to the school and services which we intended shortly to hold. We then took a small ground floor tenement standing in its own compound, which had evidently not been occupied for some time, as the man in charge, soon after we had entered into possession, caught two large cobras. We furnished the centre room in a modest sort of fashion and started business. We used to take it in turn every Sunday evening, and later on we secured the loan of a harmonium, and were happy in enlisting the good offices of a lady of the name of Cameron, who played all the hymn tunes for us, to the accompaniment of which the children sang, and this had the effect of considerably brightening and enlivening the services. Later on we were joined by two others, one a young barrister of the High Court, both of whose names I have most unfortunately forgotten.
We carried on in this manner for about two years, when I resigned, feeling that my place could be filled by much better and abler men. The Rev. E. Darley took over charge about 1877, until the late Canon Jackson appeared on the scene, and infused new vigour and fresh life into the Mission. He was ably assisted by the lady who eventually became his wife, who had been the widow of Mr. Charles Piffard, a well-known and highly respected member of the Calcutta Bar, and she was also the sister of our popular fellow-citizen, Mr. J.T. Hume. Canon and Mrs. Jackson, by their strenuous activity and energy, combined with the beautiful and simple life of self-denial and sacrifice they daily lived, succeeded in developing the scope of the Mission and creating it into the important centre of religious activity that we see in Calcutta at the present day. Though they have gone never to return, their spirit still lives, and the noble work they so wonderfully achieved is for ever imperishably enshrined in letters of gold and will stand out for all time as a beacon and an example to generations yet unborn.
THE OXFORD MISSION.
The Oxford Mission was founded in the year 1880, and it was my very good fortune to meet the first three members who started the Mission shortly after their arrival in Calcutta; and I have never forgotten the sense of honour I then felt that their friendship conferred upon me. Their names were the Rev. Mr. Willis, the Rev. Mr. Hornby, and the Rev. Mr. Brown, and the, following year their ranks were strengthened by the advent of the Rev. Mr. Argles. I was introduced to them by the Rev. F. Stewart Dyer, above referred to, who was then acting Chaplain of the Free School. I used often to meet them at his house in the parsonage in the school compound. For about the first five years they were located at 154, Bow Bazar Street, opposite the Church of Our Lady of Dolours. After that they removed to their present spacious premises at 42, Cornwallis Street. The only one now left is the Rev, Canon Brown who is the present Superior of the Mission. Mr. Willis completely broke down in health in 1883, and went home. He died in 1898. Mr. Argles also had to leave India on account of ill-health, and died in 1883. Mr. Hornby has since become Bishop of Nassau. The Rev. Canon Holmes, who joined the Mission about fifteen years ago, is closely associated with Canon Brown in the working of the Mission House in Calcutta, and affords most valuable help. Of course there are other members working in the outlying districts.
[Up to this point I had published my Recollections in three articles in the columns of the "Statesman" of the 22nd and 29th July and 5th August last, and then left Calcutta for a tour up-country, and it was whilst staying at Naini Tal and Lucknow that I completed the series which is now published for the first time.]
THE GREAT CYCLONE OF 1864.
The great cyclone occurred on the 4th October, 1864, and well do I remember it, as it was the Express day for posting letters via Bombay, and an extra fee of one rupee was charged on each ordinary letter. At that time the foreign mail went out fortnightly, alternately from Bombay and Calcutta. I happened to be rather behindhand with my letters, and was very busily engaged in office until about 6 o'clock in the evening, when I ventured outside to go to the post office, by which time the fury of the storm had almost spent itself. Although confined indoors without any actual knowledge of the awful destruction that was going on, I was not altogether devoid of a certain degree of excitement.
The office of the firm with which I was associated was then known as 7, New China Bazar Street, now Royal Exchange Place, and my room, which had several windows, was on the north side on the first floor. The wind kept constantly veering round from all points of the compass, and at one period of the day blew with terrific violence from the north—right at the back of where I was seated. I got up from time to time and closely inspected the fastenings of the windows, which, for a long while, seemed to be all right, but later on I noticed ominous signs that some of the crossbars were weakening. It then became a question as to whether and for how long they could continue to withstand the terrible strain to which they were being subjected, and, forthwith, I and my co-assistants proceeded to wedge stools and bars against them, which most providentially had the desired effect. Had they given way, the place would have been clean swept from end to end and completely wrecked. In the course of the morning my Burra Sahib, who was married, and had left his wife all alone in their house, 3, London Street, was, of course, greatly perturbed and anxious as to her safety, and at about 11 o'clock he made up his mind to try and get back home again, and ordered out his buggy. I must confess I felt horribly nervous at the time, as he was a tall heavily built man, and it was just a toss-up as to whether he could get through or not. He might very easily have been capsized and the consequences would probably have proved disastrous. Fortunately, however, nothing happened and he reached home in safety.
The cyclone commenced before midnight the previous evening and increased in intensity as daylight approached and the day advanced. It was pretty bad when I left the house at about 9 o'clock for office, still I managed to struggle through. But it was an entirely different proposition with which I was confronted on my return journey in the evening.
I was then living in a chummery in Circular Road, Ballygunge, and the entrance from Lower Circular Road, Calcutta, was so blocked up with fallen trees and other debris that I found it impossible to make headway against it in my gharry, so I sent it back to the office and walked to the house, or rather scrambled over trees and other obstacles the best way I could.
I can never forget the terrible scene of heartbreaking desolation and destruction that I encountered in every direction on going down to office next morning. It seemed at first sight as if the town had suffered from the effects of a bombardment. As I slowly wended my way along the various streets and across the maidan, I was confronted on all sides with striking evidence of the frightful ruin that had overtaken the city. On every hand were to be seen great stately trees, that had safely weathered innumerable storms of the past, lying prone on their sides, either uprooted or cut through as with a knife: many in falling had broken through the masonry of the boundary walls of the compounds in which they were growing, greatly intensifying the look of misery and desolation. There were also to be seen myriads of branches of trees stripped off and flung about in all directions in the wildest confusion, and in some parts the ground was so thickly strewn with fallen leaves as to form a sort of carpet.
Many of the buildings had also suffered very severely. Some had had their verandahs and sides blown in, and others had had corners literally cut off where the fury of the storm had struck a particular angle. Amongst some others that had fared so badly was unhappily St. James's Theatre in Circular Road, the home of the "CATS." All the members at once felt that it had become a thing of the past, as the owner, Mr. Jimmy Brown, who had built it at a cost of Rs. 30,000, could never afford the expense of repairing it. The picture will show the wreck it had become. But bad and distressing as all this appeared to be, it absolutely paled into insignificance in comparison with what I Was to witness on arrival at the river bank. The sight that there greeted me was truly appalling and beggared description. Of the whole of that grand and superb array of vessels which had been seen the day before gracefully riding safely at their moorings, decked out in all their pride and glory and lined up alongside the Strand, three and four abreast from the Pepper Box to the Eden Gardens, one alone was left, all the others having been violently torn adrift and swept clean away to the four winds of heaven. Besides these were all the country traders moored to the south of the Pepper Box known as Coolie Bazar, extending as far as Tackta Ghat, which shared the same fate.
They had all been driven helter-skelter in every direction, some as far north as Cossipore, and one vessel, the Earl of Clare, was landed high and dry on the present site of the assistants' bungalow of the north mill of the Barnagore Jute Company. One of the P. & O. boats lying at Garden Reach was deposited for some distance inland on the opposite side of the river close to the Botanical Gardens, and the Govindpur was driven helplessly in a crippled state close to the river bank just opposite to the Port Office on Strand Road, and was lying for hours almost on her beam ends on the port side facing the river. The crew had in desperation sought refuge in the rigging, from which eventually and with extreme difficulty they were happily and safely rescued. One of Apcar & Co.'s China steamers, the Thunder, was driven well inside Colvin Ghat and on to the Strand at the bottom of Hastings Street.
But the majority of ships seemed to have been flung together in a confused tangled mass close to the Howrah Railway Ghat. Many were sunk; others in the act of sinking; and the remainder so battered and hammered about as to defy description, rendering it extremely difficult to determine whether most of them would not become a constructive loss. My eldest brother was in Calcutta at the time, in command of a vessel called the Vespasian. He had been spending the previous night at my chummery at Ballygunge, and when he went the next morning to get on board his ship she was nowhere to be seen. At last he traced her, jammed in amongst the ruck at Howrah, and that was the last he ever saw of her, and he had subsequently to return home overland minus his vessel. He afterwards joined the service of the Pacific Steam Navigation Co., eventually becoming commodore of the fleet, a position which he held for a great number of years, until his final retirement.
In order to convey some slight idea of the force of the wind I will just mention that there was in command of one of the vessels in port a man of great weight and bulk who had been spending the night on shore. When he attempted to cross the maidan on foot the next morning he was thrown violently down, flat on his face, two or three times, and he had to scramble back again the best way he could. Another striking evidence of the violence of the storm was to be seen in the myriads of dead crows lying about all over the place, and it really seemed as if there was not one left alive. But unfortunately it was not long before we were undeceived, and they soon appeared to be quite as numerous as ever. As I have already stated, the destruction of trees and shrubs was very great—a loss that the city could ill afford, more particularly on the maidan, which at that time was very bare of trees and foliage generally. The various topes dotted about that we now see had not then come into existence, and the avenue of trees lining the sides of Mayo Road had only been recently planted.
I recollect there were also no trees surrounding Government House, nor in the vicinity of the Eden Gardens. And there were none on the space fronting Esplanade Row, West. Dalhousie Square and Old Court House Street were also very bare of trees—scarcely one to be seen. The loss of life amongst the natives was appalling, caused principally by the huge storm or tidal wave accompanying the cyclone, resembling a solid wall of water, which at Diamond Harbour rose to the height of 34 feet; when it reached Calcutta it was 27 to 28 feet, rushing up the Hooghly from the sea at the rate of 20 miles an hour, destroying and overwhelming everything it encountered in its wild and devastating career. It was, of course, a matter of extreme difficulty to arrive at any very reliable estimate of the number who perished, owing to the vast area of country over which the storm raged. Happily the death rate in Calcutta itself was, comparatively speaking, not so very great, and was confined more or less to the crews of small native craft plying on the river, such as lighters, cargo-boats, dinghees, budgetows, and green-boats. This closes a brief chapter of some of the incidents that occurred and which have flitted across my memory in this never-to-be-forgotten storm which nearly overwhelmed Calcutta in October 1864, and shook it literally to its very foundations; but no pen can adequately visualise the picture of awful desolation and ruin that it wrought and left behind in its terribly devastating course.
[The pictures illustrating this chapter are from a collection in the possession of Messrs. Thacker, Spink & Co.]
THE CYCLONE OF 1867.
This happened about a month later than that of 1864, on the 1st November, 1867, and long past the usual period for storms of this violent nature. On this occasion I was occupying the top flat of what was then 12, Hastings Street, Colvin Ghat, next door to the offices of Grindlay & Co., and on the site of the building recently erected by Cox & Co. as a storing warehouse. It was a very old shaky kind of house of three storeys having an insecure-looking, narrow strip of railed-in wooden verandah skirting the whole length of the southern portion of the second and third flats, which many people now in Calcutta will doubtless recollect.
It was by no means the sort of place one would choose to brave the terrors of a cyclone, and it also had the great disadvantage, by reason of its very exposed position, of being open to attack from all points of the compass.
The storm commenced earlier than that of 1864, late in the afternoon, and just about dusk appearances were so threatening that I went downstairs, with the intention of going outside to ascertain, if possible, whether it was likely to develop into a pucca cyclone or not. When I got there I found the wind was sweeping past the entrance in such fearfully violent gusts as to make it quite impossible for me to venture outside into the street, and I also detected that ominously sinister, weird and moaning sound that unmistakably warned me of the impending fact that a cyclone of considerable intensity was rapidly approaching. I immediately returned to my rooms and made everything as secure as I could for withstanding the fury of the storm. I had invited that evening a party of friends to dinner and to play whist afterwards, and they duly turned up to time. As the night wore on, the force of the wind gradually increased in intensity, and great gusts struck the building at all angles with such terrific force as to make it reel and tremble from top to bottom. I recollect I was not feeling at all nervous, not realising at the time the very great danger that threatened us all. But one of my chums, a little stout man, well known at that time in the tea trade, of the name of Inskipp, usually a most cheery and genial soul, tried his best to instil into our minds the very serious risk we were running. He kept roaming about the room in a very distressed and restless manner, prophesying all sorts of disasters, winding up with the assertion that it would not at all surprise him if at any moment the house were to tumble down about our ears and bury the whole lot of us in its ruins. It was, however, all of no use. He could not succeed in frightening us; and the four of us continued to play whist, and now and then threw out at him a few chaffing remains on his lugubrious and unhappy state. But later on we had a tremendous shock, and for the moment it seemed as if part of his prognostications were to come only too true. It appeared that the iron bar across one of the windows in my bedroom to the west, looking on to the river, leading oft the sitting room in which we were seated, had given way, and the wind bursting through the closely-barred shutters with irresistible fury had forced open the door of communication between the two rooms. Most fortunately the shutters held or the whole flat would have been completely wrecked. It took all our combined efforts some time to force back the door and securely-fasten it by jamming a music stool and chairs up against it. To add to our discomfort, the roof was leaking like a sieve, and we had to place several bowls in each of the rooms, and my own room when I entered it the following morning when the storm had passed was a sight more easily imagined than described. Of course I had to find beds for all my guests, but it is needless to say that none of us got much sleep. When daylight at length broke we all rushed to the windows, naturally expecting to see the same sort of debacle amongst the shipping as had overtaken it in the cyclone of 1864; but, to our intense joy and relief, not a single vessel had left her anchorage. This was partly due to the port authorities having learnt by bitter experience the necessity of considerably strengthening and improving the moorings, and also in a great measure to the absence of the storm-wave which had accompanied the previous cyclone and wrought such havoc and destruction. But all the same the loss of life and damage sustained, covering a large extent of country, must have been of serious and far-reaching magnitude. The city again suffered heavily in the matter of trees and shrubs, which were uprooted and, last of all, the crows of course contributed their usual heavy toll of death and temporary annihilation.
THE CYCLONE OF 1887.
It is rather singular that though this happened about 20 years later than the other two, the impression left on my mind as to the amount of actual damage it caused is not half so clear and distinct, and my recollections are confined more or less to one or two incidents of a personal nature. I remember however for one thing that I was in Darjeeling at the time, but I cannot recall any particulars that I may there have heard, or subsequently on my return to Calcutta, about the effect of the storm. I must therefore presume that nothing of a very startling nature did occur in Calcutta. There is, however, one outstanding event that I must relate, as it involved the loss of a man well known in business circles and very highly respected, and who was also a very dear and intimate friend of my own—Mr. Keith Sim, Agent of the Queen Insurance Co. before they amalgamated with the Royal Insurance Co. He had been suffering from a slight attack of fever and had been recommended to take a trip to the Sandheads. He accordingly embarked on a large and powerful steam tug, the Retriever, towing an outward bound vessel, the Godiva, but the weather from the early morning had been looking very lowering and threatening, and by the time they reached Saugor Island It had become infinitely worse. Why they were ever allowed to proceed to sea has always remained a mystery to me. It must, I think, have been some bungling on the part of the port authorities. The further they proceeded down the Bay, the worse the weather became, until eventually they ran right bang into the very teeth of a severe cyclone. The result, as was to be expected, proved most disastrous. The hawser connecting the ship and steam tug snapped in two, being unequal to the tremendous strain, and they parted company. The vessel escaped by a miracle after having been battered about and driven in all directions. She was eventually rescued by the Warren Hastings, after the lapse of three days in the Eastern Channel, in a completely gutted condition, but the steam tug foundered with every soul on board. In the act of sinking, a most extraordinary and unheard-of thing happened. A lascar on board was violently shot up from below through one of the air ventilators of the steamer, and was found floating in the sea some 36 hours afterwards by a P. & O. steamer coming up the Bay to Calcutta. He was the one and only survivor left to tell the sad tale. Of course it could never be ascertained what actually occurred, but I recollect one of the theories propounded at the time was to the effect that the steamer had been drawn into the vortex of the cyclone, and she must then have been encompassed round about by a towering mass of pyramidical seas, tumbling in the wildest confusion from all points of the compass, which gradually led to the culmination of the final catastrophe by crashing down on to the deck with irresistible and overwhelming force, literally smothering and engulfing her without a shadow of chance of recovery. Mrs. Keith Sim and her little boy were in Calcutta at the time, and great sympathy was expressed for them in their sad bereavement. The little boy has long since grown to man's estate, and is now occupying a position of great trust and responsibility as agent of the Commercial Union Assurance Co., and is thus emulating the activities and achievements of his much lamented father.
It will doubtless be a matter of surprise to a good many people to hear of the change that has taken place in the venue of one of the principal functions of Government House. When I first arrived here and for many years afterwards the usual annual levee was held at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. There is also another very marked innovation in respect of the present procedure connected with presentations to His Excellency the Viceroy. Formerly all that one had to do was to send in a card, in response to a notification issued by the military secretary in the papers, addressed to the "First Aide-de-Camp" in waiting, marked on the outside of the envelope "For the Levee," which was then considered to be all that was necessary.
On the day of the ceremony you took two cards with you, one of which you deposited on a tray in the vestibule of Government House, and the other you retained, and on approaching the military secretary in the throne room you handed it over to him, the same as you do with the official card with which each person is furnished at the present day. In the event of your desiring to act as sponsor for a friend wishing to be presented, you enclosed in the same envelope, addressed to the aide-de-camp, a second card with his name inscribed thereon, stating the object for which it was forwarded, and he followed exactly the same formula as his introducer on entering the precincts of Government House. It was considered indispensable as now that anyone making a presentation should personally attend the levee. The condition of things has so much changed since those times and the European population so greatly increased with advancing years that it was considered advisable to make some modification in the then existing rules so as to meet the altered requirements of the present time. I think the real meaning of the change is to be found in the belief that formerly existed in the minds of officials that every one who sent in his card for the levee in the old days was eligible for the entree to Government House. The procedure in respect of State Drawing Rooms has also undergone a considerable modification in one particular. Formerly gentlemen were allowed to accompany their lady friends as far as the big hall and wait for them there until they emerged from the throne room and escort them upstairs to the ball room. This privilege was withdrawn very many years ago.
The hospitality of Government House was proverbial, and whilst the Viceroy and his entourage were residing in Calcutta, it was one perpetual round of gaiety and entertainments, week after week. They comprised dinners, evening parties, dances, garden parties, and occasional concert, At Homes, levees and Drawing Rooms, and, last of all, though not least, the annual State Ball to which I have already made previous reference which generally took place after Christmas in the month of January. To this all who had attended the levee were invited, and a very pretty sight and enjoyable affair it always proved to be. I think the number of guests attending these functions generally ran into a matter of 1500, more or less.
As I have already remarked dancing was quite possible and pleasant except perhaps in the very early stages of the evening when it was a bit of a crush, but later on, more particularly towards supper and afterwards when real dancers came into their own and had the room more or less to themselves, it was a treat for the gods as the floor was always in an ideal state of perfection.
Dancing was generally kept up with spirit until 2 and 3 o'clock, and it was always very difficult to tear oneself away. For my own part I can safely say that some of the happiest and most enjoyable evenings of my life have been spent in the ball room of Government House. Amongst the numerous State functions that from time to time took place must be included durbars, investitures, and other official ceremonies, all of which were held either in the house or grounds excepting one and that was the Durbar and Investiture of the Order of the "Star of India," held by Lord Northbrook, Viceroy of India, in honour of the late King Edward on the occasion of his visit to Calcutta as Prince of Wales in December-January, 1875-76. It was without exception the most gorgeous, magnificent, and impressive pageant ever witnessed in Calcutta. All the great Ruling Chiefs and Princes left their capitals to come to Calcutta to pay their homage and fealty to their future King-Emperor, amongst others the little lady known as the Begum of Bhopal, who, by reason of her great and unswerving loyalty and devotion to the British Raj in the dark days of the Mutiny, had earned for herself not only the lasting gratitude and respect of the Government of India as well as that of the Home Government, but a position second to none in all that great assemblage of Princes and Rulers in the Indian Empire. Being a Purdahnashin she was of course closely veiled, and all that we were permitted to see was a diminutive figure, looking exactly like any ordinary up-country woman. The ceremony took place about 11 o'clock in the morning in a huge marquee or durbar tent, capable of accommodating any number of people, on a site in close proximity to the Ochterlony monument. It was enclosed within a high wall of canvas branching off the tent itself on either side for a considerable distance, leaving a long, broad, open roadway, and lined on both sides by a series of tiny robing tents for the use and convenience of the Knights who were to be newly invested at the ceremony. The enclosure was rounded off at the far end facing the north by a large gateway, at which those taking part in the ceremony were set down as they drew up in their carriages.
It was a sight never to be forgotten that gradually unfolded itself to view as the Knights in grand procession slowly moved up the avenue in solemn and dignified state to the accompaniment of the martial strains of the Royal Marine band playing a different march as each Chief appeared on the scene. They were all arrayed in the long flowing princely mantle and resplendent dress and appointments of the Insignia of the Order.
Each Chief or Prince was attended by a small retinue of retainers, one or two being armed and clad in barbaric garb of mediaeval chain-mail armour, and also a standard bearer who unfurled his banner to the breeze over the head of his own individual Chieftain. As each Chief reached the marquee he was placed in order of precedence alongside the throne. Last of all, the Viceroy and Prince of Wales appeared, escorted by nearly the whole of the bodyguard accoutred in their bright and picturesque uniform, surrounded by a most brilliant and numerous staff of aides-de-camp and equerries (chobdahs heading the procession), and all the other State officials attached to the entourage of both the Viceroy and Prince. The ceremony which took a considerable time was conducted with all the viceregal pomp and circumstance usual on such occasions, and, as I have already remarked, has never at any time been equalled in grandeur and spectacular effect in the annals of Calcutta.
COST OF LIVING IN CALCUTTA.
When I first arrived, everything was immeasurably cheaper than it is now, and it will no doubt surprise the young assistants in mercantile offices of the present day to hear that for the first year I received the sum of Rs. 200 per mensem and managed to live very comfortably on it. And when in the following year my salary was raised to Rs. 250
I could indulge in the luxury of a buggy and horse. I had a room in the best boarding house in Calcutta, in which lived young civilians or competition-wallahs as they were then styled, studying the languages prior to being drafted somewhere up-country, barristers, lawyers, merchants, and brokers. For this I paid Rs. 90 per month. My bearer, khit, and dhobi cost me a further Rs. 20—the two first Rs. 8 each and the latter Rs. 4. House-rent was ridiculously cheap in comparison with the rates of the present day. As far as I recollect, the biggest house in Chowringhee was obtainable for Rs. 400 or Rs. 450 at the outside. No. 3, London Street, where my Burra Sahib then lived, was only Rs. 300 a month. A horse and syce cost about Rs. 25 a month to keep, and everything else in proportion. People were then very simple and inexpensive in their tastes. There was not, I think, the same inclination to spend money, and, as a matter of fact, there were not so many opportunities of doing so. For one thing, there were no theatres and other places of amusement, and trips home and even to the hills were few and far between. Ladies in those days thought nothing of staying with their husbands in Calcutta for several consecutive years, and yet they lived happily and contentedly through it all. To wind up the situation as regards expenses, I should say roundly that they are now about double what they were then.
POLICY OF INSURANCE.
I should just like to relate a little episode that occurred in my very early days in Calcutta, which nearly resulted disastrously for every one concerned. It will serve, amongst other things, to enlighten people of the present generation as to the wide difference that subsists between that time and the present in respect of the treatment of policy-holders generally by insurance companies. The firm with which I was then connected were agents of a Hongkong house, and one of our duties was to pay to the Universal Assurance Company, half-yearly, the premium on a policy on the life of a man who was staying in England. I forget exactly what the amount Was, but I recollect it was something considerable. One fine day I was startled beyond measure by the receipt of a notice from the then agents, Gordon Stewart & Co., to the effect that the days of grace having expired for payment of the premium, the policy in question under the rules had lapsed and had been consequently cancelled. My feelings can be better imagined than described, as I alone was responsible, and I was fully aware of the gravity of the position. I made a clean breast of the state of affairs to my Burra Sahib, and he instructed me to go straight over to the agents and explain matters, and at the same time authorised me to offer to pay anything they might see fit to impose in the nature of a fine. I got very little satisfaction or comfort from my interview with the head of the firm, a Mr. William Anderson whose soubriquet was Gorgeous Bill, who told me that he could do nothing personally, that the matter would have to be submitted to the directors at their next weekly meeting, and that the probabilities were that they would enforce the rule and cancel the policy. The following few days were a veritable nightmare to me, as I fully expected they would act as he intimated they would and as they were fully entitled to do. At last the fatal day arrived, and I waited in fear and trembling outside the Board room, whilst the directors deliberated over the affair. To my intense joy and relief they announced their decision which was to the effect that they had taken into consideration all the facts of the matter and they thought a fine would meet the exigencies of the case, but I must not do it again. As far as I remember the amount was Rs. 150, but the point of the story has yet to be told. Whilst all this was happening the man was lying dead at home having been accidentally killed by a bale of cotton falling upon him when passing along some cotton warehouses in one of the streets in Liverpool.
Of all the vast and dramatic changes that have taken place in Calcutta since I first saw it, I think the most striking and outstanding are to be seen in Clive Street and its environs. Looking back and contrasting the past with the present, it all seems so startling and wonderful as to suggest the idea that some genii or magician had descended upon the city and with a touch of his magic wand converted a very ordinary looking street, containing many mean, dilapidated looking dwellings, into a veritable avenue of palaces, and for ever sweeping away blots and eyesores which had existed almost from time immemorial. This transformation more or less applies to Clive Row, the whole of the south side of Clive Ghaut Street stretching round the corner into the south of the Strand, part of the northern portion, Royal Exchange Place, Fairlie Place, the west and south side of Dalhousie Square, and a goodly portion to the east.
Occupying as it does the whole of the north side of Dalhousie Square has been changed and altered out of all knowledge and recognition. It was formerly, before Government took it over, a plain white stuccoed building utterly devoid of any pretensions to architectural beauty, and depending mainly for any chance claim to recognition on its immense length. Its blank, straight up and down appearance was barely relieved by several white pillars standing out rather prominently in the centre of the building. It used to be occupied by shops and all sorts of people, merchants, private residents, etc, etc. Some of the rooms on the ground floor were let out as godowns. I lived there myself for some months on my first arrival in Calcutta, and very pleasant and airy quarters I found them. I recollect in the early morning quite a number of small green paroquets used to fly all about the place, and their incessant chatter and calls to each other made it very bright and cheery. My rooms were on the top floor at the extreme west end, next to where the Council chamber is now situated. I also had in addition a very good dining room on the first floor. When the Bengal Government acquired the property they erected an entirely new facade of a totally different design from the original, built the present long range of verandahs and Council chamber which they completed in 1881-1882, and also threw out from the main block from time to time the various annexes that we see abutting on to Lyons Range.
Of course most of us know that Writers' Buildings in the days of Clive and Warren Hastings was the home and resting place of the young civilians on their first arrival in Calcutta, and who were then designated Writers, from which fact there appears little doubt the place derives its name.
One of the very earliest street alterations and improvements that comes to my recollection was in Canning Street, just at the junction of Clive Row, on the space of ground extending from the latter for some distance to the east, and north as far as the boundary wall of Andrew Yule & Co.'s offices, leaving but a narrow strip of a lane running parallel to the latter and affording access to China Bazaar on the east and beyond. When I first came to Calcutta this space was occupied by a very mediaeval, ancient, and old-fashioned building having a flagged, paved courtyard in front, surrounded by high brick walls. It divided Canning Street into two distinct sections, effectually obstructing through communication between east and west, except for the narrow strip of passage above referred to. The place was then known as it is at the present day as Aloe Godown or Potato Bazaar, and was in the occupation of George Henderson & Co. as an office when they were agents of the Borneo Jute Co., afterwards converted into the Barnagore Jute Co. When it was pulled down, it of course opened out free communication between east and west and allowed of the erection of the buildings we see on the north and south of the eastern portion. Whilst on this subject I must confess to a lapse of memory in respect of what Clive Row was like at that particular period. I am half inclined to the belief that it did not exist as an ordinary thoroughfare and had no houses on it; also that more or less it was filled up by the compounds of the various houses situated on the western side of China Bazaar. At the same time, however, it may have given access of very restricted dimensions to the north and west of Aloe Godown, but the entrance which we always used was the gateway in Canning Street facing due west.
The next improvement, that I recollect, this time in connection with the building of new business premises, was when Jardine Skinner & Co. vacated their old offices which were situated on the site of Anderson Wright & Co.'s and Kettlewell Bullen & Co.'s present offices, and removed to their present very handsome quarters which they have for so long occupied. I very well recollect the style of their old place of business and how the exterior strongly reminded me of the cotton warehouses in Liverpool. The interior was a big, rambling, ramshackle kind of a place with but few pretensions to being an office such as we see at the present day.
The whole was of course eventually pulled down, as was also a similar range of buildings in the south of Clive Ghaut Street on which Macneill & Co.'s offices were built.
It has just occurred to me whilst writing that it might perhaps be a matter of some interest to brokers and others engaged in business at the present time to be informed of the various changes that have taken place during the last forty or fifty years in the location of the offices of many of the firms with whom they have daily intercourse. Those to whom it does not appeal can skip the next few pages.
To begin with, George Henderson & Co. were the first to remove their offices after their old premises in Aloe Godown were dismantled. They first of all migrated to 3, Fairlie Place, and after many years to 25, Mangoe Lane, now in the occupation of Lyall Marshall & Co. and Lovelock & Lewes. They finally settled down in their present offices in Clive Street which they have greatly improved and enlarged.
The next firm on the list to make a change of quarters was Jardine Skinner & Co., to whom I have previously alluded.
Macneill & Co., who had branched off from the firm of Begg Dunlop & Co., had their first offices in the building now in the occupation of the Exchange Gazette Printing Office and Mackenzie Lyall & Co's Furniture Range; afterwards they removed to the Strand at the north-west corner of Canning Street, and then established themselves in their present premises to which they have made considerable additions and improvements.
Kettlewell Bullen & Co. have had many flittings since I first became acquainted with them. My first recollection of them was when they occupied a very old building, 5, New China Bazaar Street, which has been pulled down, and on the site of which have been erected the premises containing the Bristol Grill on the ground floor and several offices on the upper storeys. They then removed to 19 and 22, Strand, then back again to 5, New China Bazaar Street, afterwards to 5, Mission Row, finally settling down in their present quarters which they have greatly improved and largely extended.
Petrocochino Bros, had their offices originally on the site of the Stock and Share Exchange and Ewing & Co.'s premises. They afterwards moved over to Canning Street at the south-east corner of China Bazaar, now occupied by Agelasto & Co., finally settling down in their present quarters in Clive Ghaut Street.
Duncan Brothers & Co., or Playfair Duncan & Co. as they were known in the far off days, were established at 14, Clive Street. From there they changed over to next door in Canning Street which had formerly been occupied by Finlay Muir & Co., and thence, as we all know, to the very handsome block of buildings which they have erected on the site of Gladstone Wyllie & Co.'s old offices.
Ernsthausen & Co., or Ernsthausen & Oesterly as they were originally styled in the days when I first knew them, had their offices in Strand Road to the south of Commercial Buildings, now incorporated with the premises of Mackinnon, Mackenzie & Co. Subsequently they removed to Royal Exchange Place, where they remained for a number of years, in a building formerly occupied by a very well known firm of Greek merchants of the name of Schilizzi & Co., and now by Prankissen Law & Co. They then went to a building next to Jardine Skinner & Co. to the south, which some time before had been newly erected, but which has since been pulled down to make room for the handsome premises of the Oriental Government Security Life Assurance Co., Ltd. They finally came to anchor in their present location.
When Birkmyre Bros first established themselves here under the management of Sir Archy Birkmyre's uncle, with Mr. Patterson as assistant, who later on took charge of the Hooghly Mills, and finally of Jardine Skinner & Co.'s two mills, they occupied rooms on the first floor of 23 or 24, Strand Road, North. It was here I negotiated with them the very first contract that was ever passed in Calcutta for hessian cloth for shipment to America. I forget how long they remained there until they removed to their present offices. I may here mention that they first of all commenced operations with the machinery of an old mill which they had been running at home for some time previously, and which they shipped out stock and block to Calcutta, and erected on the site of the present Hastings Mill.
Graham & Co., on their first arrival in Calcutta, occupied 14, Old Court House Lane, and afterwards removed to 9, Clive Street, which, as we all know, was pulled down a few years ago, and the present palatial premises erected on its site.
F.W. Heilgers & Co., in the far distant past, were known as Wattenbach Heilgers & Co. When I first remember them they had their offices in an old building occupying the site of Balmer Lawrie & Co's handsome new premises, after which they removed to 136, Canning Street, where they remained for a very great number of years, until the Chartered Bank of India, etc., built their present offices when they took over and rented the whole of the second floor.
Bird & Co. were originally located at 40, Strand Road, North, a very ancient and out-of-date looking sort of a place. Their first removal was to 5, Clive Row, where they stayed until 101-1, Clive Street was erected, to which they changed finally establishing themselves on the first and part of the ground floor of the Chartered Bank Buildings on their completion some nine years ago.
James Finlay & Co., formerly Finlay Muir & Co., started in 15, Clive Row, and stayed there for a number of years, after which they removed to 21, Canning Street, and thence to their present handsome block of buildings which they erected on the site of the old "Thieves Bazaar," and a portion of the adjoining ground to the east and south.
William Moran & Co.'s old indigo and silk mart was situated on the site of the present Stamp and Stationery Office, and, as far as I recollect, extended from Church Lane to the Strand. When the ground was required by Government they built premises in Mangoe Lane, now in the occupation of Steuart & Co., the coach-builders, the Pneumatic Dunlop Tyre Co., and various other people. When misfortune overtook them, the property was, I believe, sold, and they removed to 11, Lall Bazaar Street, which has since been dismantled, and they are now in 2, Mangoe Lane, next door but one to their former premises.
Hoare Miller & Co. have only made two removals during their very long residence in Calcutta. First to the office in the Strand which they have lately vacated for their present offices in Fairlie Place, next to the National Bank. They formerly had their offices at the extreme west end of Writers' Buildings, just under my old quarters, and to the west facing the Custom House there was a large open space adjoining, which, as far as I recollect, they utilised for storing iron, metals and other goods of a like nature, and on which the Council chamber was eventually built.
Ralli Bros. have also made but one change in all the long years they have been established here, from 9, Clive Row to their present offices, which they greatly improved and enlarged on entering into possession.
Anderson Wright & Co. opened their first office at 12, Clive Row, but, as far as I can recollect, they did not stay there very long before they removed to their present place of business.
Andrew Yule & Co. were established for very many years, as most of us already know, at 8, Clive Row, and they also occupied a considerable portion of the adjoining premises extending along Canning Street. They simply stepped across the way and built themselves the splendid new block of buildings which they now occupy.
I think these embrace most of the important changes I remember. I will therefore close this branch of my recollections.
Before finally quitting the subject relating to business matters the following may interest a good many people, more particularly those engaged in the jute trade: When the jute baling industry was first started, and for many years afterwards, it was carried on principally in the very heart of the city, in Canning Street, and various streets and lanes, branching off and in the neighbourhood, such as Sukea's Lane, Bonfield Lane, Jackson Ghaut Street, and many other back slums, some of which have altogether disappeared to make room for street, and other structural improvements. There were no hydraulic presses in those days for the baling of jute, and the work had to be done by hand screws worked from the upper floor, on the same principle as the capstan of a sailing vessel, by gangs of coolies in old, tumble-down and dilapidated godowns. The jute was compressed into bales weighing 300 lbs. only, and it was not until the advent of the hydraulic presses in the seventies that bales containing first of all 350 and later 400 lbs. were shipped from Calcutta, and the baling was transferred from the town to Chitpore and the other side of the Canal. To illustrate another phase of the vast changes that have taken place, in this instance in the matter of exports, I very well remember F.W. Heilgers & Co., who happened one year to be the largest exporters, advertising the fact by printing a list of the various shippers and their shipments, with their own name at the head in larger type than that of the other firms, with a total of 120,000 or 130,000 bales!!!
In comparison with this, and just to contrast it with what was then considered a large export for one individual firm, I may mention that just before the present war Ralli Bros, exported 1,100,000 bales, Becker Grey & Co., 400,000 bales, Ernsthausen & Co, 330,000 bales, R. Steel & Co. 240,000 bales, and James Duffus & Co. 220,000 bales.
THE ICE HOUSE.
It was not until the year 1878 that ice factories were first established in Calcutta when the Bengal Ice Company was formed under the auspices of Geo. Henderson & Co., followed in 1882 by the Crystal Ice Company, of which for a time I was a director, by Balmer Lawne & Co. It was not long after the starting of the latter concern that the rivalry between the two companies became so keen and ruinous, involving as it did the cutting down of rates, that it was found impossible to continue. Unless something had been done the fight would have ended very much like the proverbial one of the Kilkenny cats. Before, however, this stage was reached, the agents and directors of both companies very wisely entered into negotiations with each other with the view of effecting a compromise, which later eventuated in their amalgamation under the style of the present Calcutta Ice Association, Ltd.