(16) Precautions on leaving the Ship -- Fire-fly -- Exchange of Coins -- Letters of credit -- of introduction -- Cautions respecting taverns, servants, &c. [[72-85]]
[] Many heedless youths, from sheer impatience, after a long voyage, to reach their destined abode with all possible speed, have fallen premature victims to the scorching rays of the sun in open boats. It is therefore highly probable that some improvements and salutary regulations have been latterly introduced, as to the medium of conveyance from the ship to Calcutta, which may render certain observations here superfluous; yet if things still continue on the old footing, they cannot be too soon rectified, if the preservation of valuable lives be a consideration worthy of the smallest solicitude.
Persons in a delicate state of health should, if possible, wait for some safe and comfortable conveyance. It is the most certain method to commission the purser to hire a vessel, the moment he reaches Calcutta, and to send her off under the charge of a servant, to prevent delay by the boatmen; which otherwise, if paid by the day, would be inevitable. The misfortune is, that very few can endure to be so much longer confined on board, and thus impatiently reject this proposal. Here it may be expected that the greatest haste will make the worst speed; at the same time that the expenses are increased greatly, while the accommodations are proportionably deteriorated.
Now and then, an adventurous manjhee (or boat-master) who knows how to make a good bargain will linger about Diamond Harbour, or lay up in Culpee Creek, ready to go down, wind and tide permitting, to the first ship which arrives from Europe. These men are certain of a good fare, it being very common to give from fifty rupees (about six guineas) to one hundred for the trip.
Such an opportunity, however extravagant the terms may appear, ought not to be lost; it being a great chance whether a second vessel of the same description may proceed to the ship. As to [] small boats rowing four or six oars, and having either a thatched cabin or a semicircular awning of mats, several of them may come alongside; but they yield not the smallest accommodation beyond shelter from the sun; while their manjhees will not fail to take every advantage of the distress, or difficulty, under which a passenger labours.
It would be unjust to infer from what has been said, respecting the readiness with which the boatmen avail themselves of the necessities of persons desirous to leave a ship, that they are peculiarly covetous, or prone to imposition. One need only look at home, to find that little mercy is shewn to such unfortunates as become the prey of watermen, along the whole extent of the English coast. With what hard-hearted, callous apathy does the boatman view the distress of the unthinking youth who, either by neglect or accident, remains on shore after the boats that frequent his own ship, then under weigh, have put off! What prayers, or arguments, short of those issuing from the purse, can urge him to relieve the anxiety of one whose whole hope, whose only resource, lies in that voyage for which every preparation has been made, and for which expenses, often nearly ruinous to friends and connexions, have been defrayed!
These remarks do not apply to impatient people, who are in a
quit their ships before they come to an anchor. If they will have their
way, they must pay for such intemperate haste; it is an expense they
the option of avoiding. Really, when we come fairly to compute the
incurred by the master of a vessel built expressly for accommodation,
not intended to meet the rude surges of what may be called an arm of
sea -- that from twelve to eighteen men are engaged; that much time is
lost in waiting arrivals; that full sixty miles are to be passed []
over; and that perhaps four or five gentlemen, with their luggage that
is at hand, are conveyed -- when these circumstances are considered,
fifty rupees cannot well be deemed exorbitant; at least, there appears
far less reason to charge extortion on the Indian, than there is to
the cruel rapacity of the English boatman.
The sides are furnished for their whole length with Venetian blinds, in frames which lift up by means of hinges at their tops; and [a] long curtain, made either of tarpaulin, or of painted white canvass, is nailed on the outside; letting down at pleasure, to keep out wind, rain, dust, &c. The bailing-place is ordinarily about the centre of the front room, that being the deepest part of the boat's bottom. Luggage may be put under the deck; but that part is generally occupied by the dandies (or rowers), if permitted to sleep there; or perhaps the manjhee may think it worth his while to make it a trading voyage, and lay in some rice, &c., to be disposed of to advantage on his arrival at the presidency.
From this concise detail it will be seen that some inconvenience [] must be undergone, even in this kind of boat, and supposing it to be perfectly fitted up, as will rarely be the case, with the above defences against bad weather.
The sea-cot is now of singular use; its hooks being withdrawn
ship's beams, and inserted in those of the budgrow. Those who
standing bed-places must spread their mattresses, &c. on the floor.
All must sit upon their trunks, or on whatever may be at hand; and now,
every little article of convenience brought from the ship will become
Candles, candlesticks, tin-ware, glasses, &c., are invaluable.
Those, however, who have been in the habit of eating made-dishes, at a distance from the culinary operations, may not altogether relish the manner of preparation, nor be invariably pleased with the appearance of the cook. His habiliments will probably consist of a cloth wrapped round his waist, then passed between his thighs, and a small cap, if the party be a Mussulman; if a Hindu, the entire dress may be composed of a small cord tied round his waist, for the purpose of supporting a narrow piece of cloth passed between his thighs. Herpetic eruptions, in large patches, all over the back, breast, and arms, together with obvious symptoms of a more troublesome cutaneous complaint, about the fingers, &c., are by no means rare, yet never disqualify the scratching sufferer from officiating as cook to the crew! Were such trifles to be objectionable, the dressing [=preparation] of a dinner might be somewhat difficult.
[] It is utterly impracticable to row a budgrow against the tide, which commonly runs from three to six miles in the hour, and many difficulties present themselves, rendering it by no means easy to track along the shore, especially where the mud-banks shelve out a great way. The manjhee will therefore probably come to [the bank] near some village, or in some creek, during the ebb; and as it rarely happens that the first of the flood is taken, particularly during the night, in all probability the best part of three days will be expended between Kedgeree and Calcutta.
If a few bottles of wine, a small quantity of biscuit, some cold meat, such as a rump of beef or a piece of pork, and a few entertaining books, with a pack of cards, have been supplied from the ship, so much the more agreeably will the time be passed; but every species of repletion and intemperance at this time rarely fails to bring on fevers, such as baffle the art of man.
Those who heat their blood on first entering the country, whether by drinking, eating, or exposure to the sun, become subject to diseases of the liver, which are too often incurable and, though after some years of intermediate suffering, perhaps drag their lingering victim to the grave. With respect to bathing, it is not only inconvenient and insalubrious, as practised by persons who have not a proper apparatus at hand, but highly dangerous, on account of the incredible numbers of alligators and sharks which infest not only the great river, but every little creek and puddle within reach of the tide -- a remark applicable to almost every tank, reservoir, stream, and ditch throughout India.
The manjhee generally endeavours to reach Culpee, Fultah, or Diamond Harbour, with the first tide. At either of those places many articles of provision may be procured, and there will be found persons who can speak [] a little English. These will invariably encourage the purchase of many things of no use whatever, but which become perquisites to the manjhee, on his passengers quitting the vessel. Abundance of poultry may be seen; but with the exception of a curry, there will be no mode of dressing them; unless accidentally some person be on board who can trim a fowl and roast it. If fish are to be had, they will come under the same difficulty, so that like Sancho, in the midst of plenty a man may be next door to starvation, if he cannot make up his mind to partake of the dandies' curry; or is quite ignorant, in propria persona, of the culinary art.
It is proper to add a caution against eating much fruit, though perfectly ripe. Unseasonable avidity in this way has proved fatal to many, on their arrival. A few bananas will not incommode; but the cocoa-nut, however pleasant and refreshing, should be very sparingly used; as it is extremely apt to affect the bowels, so also the jack.
Those who have never had an opportunity of seeing the fire-fly, will be agreeably surprised at the millions of those little luminaries, which at night bespangle every bush, displaying themselves in the most vivid manner. The hind parts of these insects, which may be about the size of common house-flies, are replete with a brilliant substance similar to that contained in the glow-worm, and, like it, equally innocent. By placing a few of these wing lamps under the glass of a watch, the hour can be distinctly perceived in the darkest night, so long as they live; but the story told of a bird called the buya, illuminating its pendant close nest by sticking the inside full [of] these insects, must be false, for death entirely destroys their phosphoric power.
It is very remarkable that, in many parts of the ocean,
of the luminous [] sea-maggot, each about the size of a man's
are seen at night, causing the water to assume a phosphoric appearance.
In sailing through these living shoals, abundance may be drawn up in
At the same time, innumerable fishes of prey may be heard, or seen,
among them, and no doubt making many a hearty meal.
The taverns in India are upon a very different plan. They are either of the first rate, at which public dinners are occasionally given, or of that mean description which receive all who have a rupee to spend, under the determination of extracting that rupee in some shape or other. The former class is very confined in numbers, but the latter are abundant, and may be readily distinguished by the promiscuous company, the shabbiness of the treatment, and the excess of imposition, especially on novices.
It is easy to avoid the necessity for running into the mouths of these leviathans. All that is requisite is to call at the first office or shop, to learn the residence of the gentleman to whom the letter of introduction is addressed. No ceremony should be used in explaining the circumstances, and in soliciting the aid of a servant to lead the way. No one ever yet heard of a want of civility on such occasions.
In speaking thus confidently respecting a letter of introduction, the case of course alludes to a person not appointed to the service of the Company. It cannot, indeed, be conceived what could induce any man of respectability to visit India, without a substantial recommendation; or indeed unless under some agreement, or sufficient assurance of being employed in such a manner as might tend to certain advantage.
Nothing can be more forlorn than the situation of a mere adventurer, on his arrival in India. With money in his pocket, he may [] assuredly subsist; but without some friend to introduce him into society, he may remain for years unnoticed; for throughout the East, and especially at the several presidencies, he who knows nobody, him will nobody know. Residence at a tavern is, in itself, a perfect disqualification among persons of repute; as implying either a total want of respectable acquaintance, an addiction to liquor, or a predilection for low company.
In saying this, there is no denying that some worthy characters have been rescued from perpetual degradation, by accidental intercourse with persons of peculiar sensibility. Such nice [=refined] feelings, however, and that unqualified liberality, which have been occasionally discovered in a few individuals, are rarely united. When they are, it too often happens that the power to render them effectively beneficial is altogether wanting. A man may be thoroughly convinced of the worthiness of his protege, but it will not always follow that society will sanction his opinion. In considering the state of society in India, this will be evident. Strongly therefore to inculcate the sentiment may prove serviceable to many who have misconceived the subject in general, or have been led by a too sanguine disposition, to deem the whole toil, risk, and solicitude as being over, [as] soon as their feet can rest on the terra firma of Hindoostan.
Mutatis mutandis at each of the three presidencies, most of the subsequent animadversions and hints will apply, subject nevertheless to the local peculiarities of those settlements, all however agreeing in their general features of intercourse between the natives and newcomers, on whom the former will invariably prey as long as they can. Few ships on their outward voyage are wholly destitute of some old Indian passengers. From these, partial customs and occurrences may be completely [] ascertained before the vessel reaches her destined port. No youth, therefore, need arrive in a state of profound ignorance, unless too lazy to learn those things most requisite for his immediate comfort and welfare.
The ordinary mode in which a European is accosted on his first arrival at Calcutta, is by the tender [=offer] of a bearer, carrying a large umbrella, to shelter him from the sun or rain. There is something about a stranger, in that quarter, which instantly announces him to all the predatory tribe who wait at the wharfs in expectation of living booty: but otherwise, his total ignorance of the language would be sufficient to determine their conduct.
The bearer, who is in league with that numerous horde of miscreants called sircars, abounding not only at Calcutta but throughout the lower provinces, speedily conveys the hint to his associates. A smooth-faced chap who speaks English well enough to be understood, and who comprehends more than he will acknowledge, now advances, and making a respectful obeisance called a salaam, by bending his head downwards, and placing the palm of his right hand to his forehead, makes an offer of his services to the stray Briton.
However a youth may be prepared by the cautious injunctions of friends, and the detail of knaveries practised by such characters, still it is by no means easy to avoid the snare. Reflecting on the anxiety inseparably attendant on arrival in a country where everything is new, everything strange, and where, in case of disappointment, all must be misery, it is not surprising that so much confidence should be placed on those who cheer the novice, by speaking to him in his native tongue.
But, admitting the folly of confiding in any stranger, how is the case to be ameliorated? Ignorant of the language, as well as of the customs; totally unacquainted with any soul on the spot; [] and eager to obtain a shelter from the oppressive heats -- what is the poor adventurer to do? He cannot remain in the boat! He cannot take root, and vegetate, at the water side! Nor can he perambulate the public roads till fatigue sink him to the dust, or some benevolent European, on perceiving his distress, shall offer him an asylum!
What then is to be done? Why, the sircar must lead him to some paltry tavern, in which he is either interested, or from whose keeper he receives a douceur for introducing a guest. In the meantime, his baggage, with the exception of such minutiae as may adhere to the fingers of the boat-men, or of those who have the handling [of] them on shore, will follow; and there will be no want of attention to immediate accommodation.
The tavern-keeper, under the plausible pretext of aiding towards the completion of the youth's wishes, never fails to enquire whether the gentleman has any friends in town, or even in the country? If affirmatively answered, "mine host" feels himself tolerably secure of his money: but will probably assert that the friend in town is out of the way, and will not be back for some days.
Should the gentleman be totally destitute of friends, then comes the rich harvest. Imposition following imposition swells the bill; which, if appearances warrant forbearance, is kept back as long as possible, under the pleasing assurance of perfect confidence. In the end, however, a catalogue of items is produced, which never fails to alarm, if not to ruin, the unsuspecting victim!
Should, unhappily, the guest so far lower himself as to associate with the ordinary company of the common drinking-room, he is irretrievably gone. Quarrels, riots, and inebriety follow; till in all probability he becomes subject to the notice of the police. Should his face ever be seen at that office, his admission into any respectable [] circle would be next to impossible.
What with lodging, dinners, wines, &c. of the worst description, but all rated at the highest prices, he must be fortunate who escapes under a gold mohur (two guineas) per day. Double that sum is generally charged; so that a person starts at the rate of £1000 per annum, at least; while in all probability no established, or even apparent, provision exists, whereby he may be maintained.
Add the allurements held out by the sable beauties who will contrive means to retail their charms, so long as they think money is to be had, and no trifling expense will be incurred. Some fellow who can speak English, and thoroughly understands whatever relates to the interest of the concern -- which, among other things, includes thieving, lying, cheating, pimping, &c. -- is employed to delude the unwary stranger.
The first essay [=attempt] is ordinarily made by describing
of the native women, and their great perfection as singers and dancers;
and rarely fails, especially with youths under such circumstances, to
something more than curiosity. The dancing-girls are introduced, and so
many fatal consequences follow, that nothing can be more dangerous than
this irregular indulgence; it never failing first to drain the purse,
in a few days or weeks, the constitution also.
It is a very general custom among the Moossulmans of low condition, to give such of their male children as are born during their Lent (or Ramzaun), the name of [] Ramzauny, meaning "born during the Ramzaun." There being so many thus designated, renders the name extremely common; and as an infinity of rogueries have been practised by persons so called, it has rather got into disgrace. Hence the adventurers above described are, by a slight but ludicrous corruption, termed Rum-Johnnies, which after all, may be only a slighter change from ram-juna, a Hindoo dancing-boy.
That a servant thus enabled to act as the medium of intercourse, must prove on many occasions highly convenient, may be confessed; but like a two-edged sword, he may operate either way, as to himself may appear expedient; and while pretending to serve, may be pillaging his employer. It is to be lamented, that the stranger has no immediate resource; and in case of injury, little redress.
The mischief is not owing to any deficiency in the police, but arises from that invariable precaution with which Rum-Johnnies carry on their manoeuvres. They never fail to have a third person in the way, who is to disappear with the purloined articles, and to bear all the blame; while the principal affects great resentment at the villain's audacity, and sorrow for his master's loss.
This is often so dexterously managed as to occasion serious quarrels, when friends who see through the deception endeavour to convince the infatuated party, that his confidential menial is at the bottom of the roguery. The disreputable circumstance of having a thief at his elbow, does not sit very easy on the stranger's mind: deriving so much convenience from Rum-Johnny's aid, and having only the fair side of the knave's conduct in view, he is unwilling to give credit to what appears a gross misrepresentation, founded on prejudice. By this means, he sinks deeper into the mire, and renders it dangerous for his well-wisher to attempt his extrication.
[] Captain Williamson says, "I recollect an instance of a young gentleman's joining a regiment, about a hundred miles up the country, who had among his servants a khedmutgar (or table-attendant) of whom I never could get a sight. The fellow was always sick, or busy; or some excuse was invariably made. At length, one of my own domestics informed me that he was a Rum-Johnny who had been discharged for theft from my service, in which he held the office of mosaulchy (or link-boy). I found out that he had been employed in the barracks at Fort William, where he picked up a little English, and had fastened on the gentleman, no doubt with the intention to avail himself of the first good prize wherewith to decamp.
"Finding, to his great discomfort, that I had been removed to that station where he found me, the scoundrel kept aloof, under the hope of carrying his project into execution. Strange to say, it was with extreme difficulty I could convince my young friend that he was the dupe of a downright thief; who, if I had not been improperly lenient, would have had the certificate of his crime noted on his back, by the drummers of the regiment!"