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(14) Madras, Masoola-boats, Dobhashiyas, coins [[63-68]]

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((126)): After passing to the northward of Ceylon, the navigation becomes more difficult; there being immense shoals stretching, in various directions, all the way from Tranquebar up to the mouths of the Ganges. It is generally opposite some short interval between these dangerous shallows, that our principal settlements are situated. Thus, Tranquebar, Pondicherry, Cuddalore, Negapatam, and some others to the southward of Madras, enjoy a partial benefit in that instance; but to the northward, our principal sea-ports are under very considerable disadvantages, arising from the great distance at which all vessels, with the exception of very small coasters, are obliged to lay out in an open road, subject to the fury of storms, and to the depredations of privateers, ((127)) which seldom fail to take advantage of these localities, whenever the season may allow them to visit our shores.

The shallows may easily be distinguished at a considerable distance: being composed of light, shifting sand, and acted upon by a strong current, the water above them appears discolored; assuming a dun, or yellow hue, sufficiently contrasted with the deeper parts, to enable the eye at once to trace their respective limits.

 [[63]] Madras Roads, being exempt from shoals for some miles on either side, are entered without a pilot; ships in general anchoring off the fort, in from six to ten fathoms; the bottom a firm sand. The surf is here, at all times, rather high, but when a south-west or westerly wind prevails, becomes so tremendous as to debar all communication with the shipping. From the beginning of October to the middle of January, the flag-staff is struck, as a signal to vessels that no insurance is payable on account of such losses as may happen during that period, which is held to be replete with danger.

So great is the apprehension entertained of the perils attendant upon a continuance on the Coromandel coast during that monsoon, that even our ships of war retire from the protection of such trade as may be carried on by adventurous individuals, and seek an asylum in some well-sheltered port, such as Trincomalee.

The country, or masoolah, boats employed here carry from forty to sixty tons. They are made of plank, about two inches in thickness above, and three below, fastened together by means of coir (the fibres of cocoa-nut rinds) passed through small holes pierced along the edges of the several planks, all around each. These planks appear as though sewed together with twine of the above description, [[64]] and are fastened to battens and sleepers, answering for ribs and floor timbers. At the bottom, planks are laid in the opposite direction of these, which form the vessel; and near the gun-wales, several thwarts are secured across: they passing through the sides, and being firmly pinned in. There is no deck, and the rudder consists of a large kind of oar, rigged out at the stern.

At a little distance, the masoolah-boats appear like rude imitations of English coal-barges. They row from ten to sixteen oars, and when unladen, make more speed than persons accustomed to wherries, or to ships' pinnaces, would expect, passing through the surf, both coming and going, with amazing facility. Sometimes, indeed, owing to letting them swing round instead of steering head-on, they fill, or overset. This, however, very rarely happens; and the mere act of swamping, unless in the first, or outward, surf, is not attended with any imminent danger; the next wave generally impelling the boat, and all that it contains, high (but not dry) upon the beach, where it is soon run up out of the water's way. 

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((130)): In order to encourage the boatmen to exert themselves fowards saving any Europeans who may be in danger, owing to a masoolah-boat's upsetting in the surf, the Company allow premiums, generally medals, to such as may prove their title thereto. Several of the Company's servants, and others, owe their lives to the activity of these people, a few of whom have been enabled to retire upon a very comfortable subsistence allowed to them by those gentlemen they had rescued. It is much to be lamented, that the Company have never been able to adopt the only efficient means of breaking the surf for a few hundreds of yards: namely, by conical caissons, forming an angle in front of the landing place....

((131)) It is indispensably necessary, when going ashore at Madras, or in any part where the surf runs high, to be well covered with a boat-cloak, or some ample exterior clothing; for even under the best management, and during the most favorable weather, the spray will rise around the boat, completely wetting whatever finery may ((132)) be exposed to its action. Nor must it be considered [in] any way extraordinary, if a large portion of that surf which propels the boat, should pour over her stern or quarters, so as to drench the whole party!

 The masoolah-boats are, very properly, under the sole management of the master-attendant, or the beach-master. None can put off without licence; and no one is admitted to serve on board, but an expert and bold swimmer. Instances of individuals of any description being lost are extremely rare. Such accidents have happened chiefly at the outer surf (there being usually three following waves to pass, or to accompany), where the water is very deep, and immense numbers of ground-sharks are ever on the watch for what accident may throw in their way. It will readily be supposed that the shore is tolerably bold, when it is mentioned that our Indiamen, deeply laden, have been several times necessitated to warp to the very edge of the outer surf, in consequence [[65]] of an enemy's fleet having entered the roads, with the view to cut them out.

In the first boat which approaches a ship, a number of debashes or dobhashiyas (interpreters) are sure to arrive, bringing with them various articles of provision, fruits, &c. as presents to the captain and officers; whose favour each of them courts, under the hope to be employed as agent for the ship, or to supply necessaries, and provide lodgings for individuals.

These debashes are generally men of property, and of some consequence among the natives, from having at times so many purchases to make for those who arrive at Madras; but especially where the supplies necessary for a whole ship, or sometimes for a whole fleet, are in question. They all speak broken English, understanding far beyond what they can express in our language. They are servile to an extreme, and most completely trained in every money-making device.

Few people, taking all things into consideration, are more hospitable than the Europeans residing at Madras. Any defect in that respect supposed to exist may, by due consideration of peculiar circumstances relating to person or place, always find some sufficient apology. Madras being so much frequented, and the number of European gentlemen resident there being comparatively trifling, it cannot be expected they should keep open house, or indulge their friendly dispositions in the exercise of unlimited kindness.

In fact, the expectations of those who visit Madras, on their way from Europe to India, are, for the most part, rather too sanguine. They have heard much of Indian hospitality, and wonder at that disappointment which is purely the offspring of their own unreasonable anticipations. There cannot be any situation where a letter of introduction is of more avail, or indeed more [[66]] necessary, than this. Such letter should be addressed to some person resident at Madras, or it may be perfectly nugatory, from the immense expanse over which the civil servants, as well as the military, are scattered. A young gentleman taking out a dozen letters, may, on his arrival, find them entirely useless, the parties being absent from the presidency.

The passengers of every class are expected to reside on shore during the ship's detention in the roads. Few, indeed, neglect to avail themselves of the opportunity offered of seeing one of our principal fortresses, and of observing the customs of a country so celebrated in history, and forming so essential a branch of the British empire. If an introduction be obtained by any means, the usual result will be an invitation to reside with the gentleman, if he keeps house.

Otherwise, every attention will be paid in seeing the stranger accommodated, at the best house of that description which admits boarders; and which are commonly called "Punch-Houses." This designation doubtless arose from the habits of those who first settled in India, and who, finding spirits, sugar, and limes (a small species of lemon) everywhere abundant, indulged in copious draughts of punch. That beverage is now completely obsolete, unless among sea-faring persons, who rarely fail to experience its deleterious effects.

In all seaports, taverns or punch-houses are more frequented than in places where shipping lie in some distant road, or harbour. This occasions them to be more respectable in the opinions of those who keep them; but nothing could reconcile a gentleman long resident in the country, to seek an accommodation among them. It would imply a total want of respectable connexions, and in itself appear a sufficient cause for avoiding his acquaintance.

Totally ignorant of the language, and without any guide, [[67]] it is by no means surprising that so many impositions are practised on our countrymen soon as they arrive in India. A debash of the lowest order, and of the most crafty disposition, perfectly experienced in all the ordinary requisitions of Europeans, and prompt to gratify their desires so long as profit attends the speculation, is ever at the elbow of the novice, serving as banker, purveyor, pimp, and interpreter. What more can be requisite to ruin a helpless, inconsiderate [=thoughtless] youth?

Most of the gentlemen in the Company's service reside in the fort, or at houses a few miles off, in the country, or at St. Thomas's Mount, about six miles from Madras, where the artillery are usually quartered, together with the troops destined to defend the works in case of attack. 

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((137)): The incursions to which the Carnatic was formerly exposed, during the times of Hyder, and of Tippoo, rendered it expedient to fortify the Black-Town; which is very extensive, and contains the houses of many highly respectable European merchants, chiefly British and Portuguese, together with the entire property of the richer natives of rank and consequence....

((138)) Except at that season when the flag-staff is struck, Madras Roads [=harbour area] are, in general, much resorted to by shipping. Being the seat of government on the Coromandel coast, it necessarily has become the emporium of that side of the peninsula. Most of the China ships touch there, and very few of those proceeding to Bengal omit to call; especially when war either prevails, or is expected to break out. 

It is much to be lamented, that no means have yet been devised, nor indeed appear easily practicable, of rendering the Roads safe against the attack of an enemy. The fort certainly could repel any attempt to land within the reach of its cannon; but there does not appear any possibility of preventing an enterprising enemy from causing all the shipping either to surrender, or to run ashore. Perhaps hulks might be so stationed as to become very efficient in the defence of whatever shipping might remain beyond the surfs. One or two old 64-gun ships properly prepared against boarding might, at all times, suffice, if moored with chains in proper situations, under cover of the batteries.

 The Black-Town is not an enviable site for residence; but the situation, being subject to the land and sea breezes, the latter of which are as refreshing as the former are debilitating, reconciles the older inhabitants to many inconveniences, among which smoke is by no means the least obnoxious.

The musquitoes are here tolerably numerous, as are also rats of all sizes, cock-roaches, and scorpions. The latter grow to an immense size, and are peculiarly venomous. That most loathsome companion, the bug, is to be found here in such swarms, that it is by no means uncommon to see them crawling about at all hours, and in all places.

St. Thomas's Mount is certainly the more pleasant station, and may be fairly put in competition with any of those rural retreats called "Garden Houses," scattered everywhere in the vicinity of the capital. At these, many families reside all the year round; the gentlemen who have offices to attend, being conveyed to them in the mornings, either in palanquins, or in their carriages; the climate by no means favouring much exercise on horseback.

[[68]] It being indispensable that every person should be conversant with the several coins, or currency, in which payments are made, or accounts kept, people arriving at this settlement should make themselves acquainted with the tables of coins, weights, and measures, in use at Madras: observing that throughout the dependent provinces, an endless variety in the two last are to be found; and that consequently, all dealings must be regulated in proportion to the increased, or diminished, variations, wherever situated. The East India Directory will be found to contain whatever may relate to this subject, including the three presidencies.


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