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(58) Amusements, theatres, races, gaming, music, balls, ((education,)) Fort William, military establishments [[355-363]]

[[355]] The amusements of Europeans in India are by no means numerous, nor of any continuance; the climate, the localities, and the occupations precluding such variety or gratification as may be enjoyed in Europe. Calcutta has, however, a very tolerable theatre: central, and sufficiently spacious to contain what spectators are generally collected from the town.

Williamson 1810 vol. 2: ((201)) This was built about fifty years ago, by subscription, in shares of one thousand rupees each; but owing to the very heavy expences incurred in getting up plays, which formerly depended entirely on the penchant of gentlemen, who ((202)) per formed all the characters, both male and female, the debts became so very heavy that the concern fell into disrepute, and the shares were sold for half their original value.

It may seem strange that, while no performers of any description were employed, the house should get into debt; and that since hirelings have been engaged, it should have been in a more flourishing state. The enigma is, however, easy of solution. Gentlemen of property, fashion, and consequence, were not easily controlled; they would have new dresses for every character, and were to be kept in humour by good suppers after each rehearsal, some tickets for their friends, &c., &c., &c.; so that when all was reckoned up, the receipts were invariably less than the disbursements.

It is true that a gold-mohur (2 guineas) was the price of a box admission, that the pit was half a mohur, and the gallery a quarter of a mohur; but the house was rarely full, and there were rarely more than ten pieces performed during the whole year, and those generally in December, January, and February. The house had cost a lac of rupees (i.e. 100,000, equal to £l2,500) in building and fitting up; therefore there was a constant demand for interest, at twelve per cent., equal to £ 1,500 yearly; that, however, was commuted into silver tickets, which necessarily ((203)) diminished the receipts; causing the shares to sink from money speculations into mere family conveniences.

The heavy incumbrances brought on by the above inconsiderate measures, occasioned a necessity for letting out the theatre to any person who would conduct the amusements in such manner as might prevent matters from growing worse. This accordingly was done, and a spirit of enterprise was created in the manager thus appointed by a majority of the proprietors, whereby a great encrease took place in the performances, which became chiefly dependant on professional persons engaged at liberal salaries; while at the same time, few gentlemen in the Company's service contributed the aid of their talents.

This secession was occasioned by the marked displeasure evinced by Marquis Cornwallis towards all who took parts in the dramas: it threatened to close the doors of the theatre. A competition, arising about the same time, produced an effect which accidentally sustained the speculation, by causing an interest, indeed a spirited party, to be formed, in favor of the old house; which in a very short time triumphed, and caused the opposition to give up.

With respect to the merits of the gentlemen performers, much may be said: there certainly were among them some who might have ((204)) appeared before a London audience without any fear of disapprobation. The names of Fleet-wood, Messink, Norfor, Golding, Bigger, Call, Keasberry, Robinson, &c., &c., will long be remembered by the lovers of the drama; nor will they be easily effaced from the memory of those in whose hearts their merits as members of society were deeply impressed.

The scenery was originally furnished from England, under the auspices of Garrick, who sent out Mr. Messink for the purpose of regulating the theatre at its outset. Since that time, various additions have been made by different artists of acknowledged ability, among whom Mr. Battle maybe noticed as possessing superior talents, both in that important branch, and in the representation of various interesting characters. 

It is, however, to be expected, that notwithstanding the great encrease of the European population, by whom it is almost wholly supported, the theatre must be sold off. This, though a severe privation, where every item in the catalogue of public amusements is highly appreciated, will not fall heavy on the proprietors. The facility with which the edifice might be converted into a superb suite of offices, or into a magnificent dwelling, would insure them the repayment of their money; especially as the quantity of land reserved around it, for the accommodation of palanquins, &c., is extremely valuable: indeed, that alone must be ((205)) worth full the aggregate amount of the shares at their ordinary value; which has generally been about forty or fifty percent, under par.

The temporary theatres erected at the several military stations have afforded considerable gratification to their several audiences. In these "cheap epitomes of Roman greatness" many a good play has been performed in an excellent style, such as brought to recollection the mother-country, and occasioned comparisons by no means derogatory to the Asiatic boards. Exclusive of the exertions [[356]] of officers who indulged in this recreation, many of the non-commissioned and privates of the European regiments contributed richly to the catalogue of histrionic characters. Some, though perhaps not endowed by the graces, nor enriched by erudition, have displayed an accurate discrimination of an author's design, and commanded the applause of audiences comprising many competent judges of dramatic excellence.

The Calcutta race-course, situated about a mile and a half to the southward of the town, is by no means duly preserved, being much injured by the carriages of gentlemen who frequent it as a ride. There is indeed a clerk of the course; but he has no power to enforce the observance of the rules laid down by the Jockey Club. He cannot, in fact, prevent the course from being miserably defaced and cut up; nor, even when the horses are running, can he keep it clear from obstructions.

This evil arises from the general indisposition of those who frequent the place to join in the sports, or even to encourage them; hence a want of courtesy is prevalent, and the horses run under great disadvantages. It may be said that as they run only during the cold months, when the turf is tolerably firm, little injury is done by the carriages which travel over it; but a rut, or track, made at that time, speedily hardens and becomes dangerous both to horses and riders. Where few however are interested, few will be considerate.

Many horses have started at Calcutta, which would make no contemptible figure even at Newmarket. According to the distance, and the time in which the course has been run over, a few could be mentioned which might compete with the best of the second class of British racers. Taking into consideration that such are entirely the result of chance purchases, and not of careful [[357]] breeding, it may be fairly argued that the horses of India, or those brought from Candahar, Lahore, the Maharrattah states, &c., possess considerable speed. 

Many, indeed, of that small indigenous breed usually held in contempt, especially on the turf, have displayed very great powers, and [out]distanced horses not only of considerable value, but of high reputation. The race-grounds are not better preserved in other parts of the country, than at the Presidency. There is, however, ample room for excuses, as there are few horses kept for running; the races in those quarters being merely desultory, and the course generally marked out, pro tempore, on some uncultivated spot which, having a tolerable surface, may for two or three days at Christmas sufficiently serve the purpose of amusement.

Though there are tattoo (pony) races, at Calcutta, few of that class are brought forward, except after ample proof of their qualifications. The pony races are indeed often the most distinguished on the clerk's register. At the out-stations, matches or sweepstakes are made solely with a view to merriment, or from whim and frolic; or they are the result of occasional elevation after a hearty regale. Nor indeed can mirth be easily repressed on seeing a clumsy-looking beast with heavy heels, and a head like a yam, taking the lead of "trim-built wherries" that seem to challenge competition.

As a curious instance, a very shabby, heavy-looking tattoo, belonging to Captain Caesar Jones, started in this adventitious manner, and to the surprise of all, fairly distanced several celebrated steeds. He was sent to Calcutta, where his uncouth appearance excited only ridicule; but there was no standing against his speed and bottom. Hence, he acquired the name of Take-In, a designation which the knowing ones feelingly acknowledged to be highly appropriate.

[[358]] The spirit for betting at races does not run very high in India, though some characters there have devoted their whole attention to this species of gambling. So little is the encouragement to speculations on the turf, that with the exception of a few fat pigeons, it may be said that no money has been made by racing; the wagers rarely exceeding a few gold mohurs. Every horse, too, becoming so thoroughly known to all the sporting community, there is little opportunity for deception or contrivance.

The smallest indication of collusion would, in that quarter, instantly destroy reputation, and produce shyness, if not an absolute estrangement, towards the offending individual. This would be less felt in Europe, where a man may change his quarter, and for a long time screen himself from public, or general, disapprobation; but in India, when an individual is cut at one station, he will rarely experience common civility at any other; his character generally preceding him by many a day's journey.

Gambling was formerly one of the most prominent vices at Calcutta; but has since considerably diminished. Those who recollect the institution of Selby's Club, and who now contemplate the very small portion of time dissipated, even by the younger classes, at cards, &c., by way of "profit and loss," cannot but approve the salutary reform introduced by Marquis Cornwallis. Whatever may have been his foibles, his prejudices, and his errors in other matters, he was certainly entitled to the approbation of the Company, as well as to the gratitude of their servants, for having checked so effectually a certain licentious spirit which, till his arrival, had been totally uncontrolled, indeed, unnoticed in any shape, by his predecessors.

To expect that any Governor should be able to annihilate every bad practice, would be to suppose him invested [[359]] with supernatural powers; but it is assuredly within the reach of every person bearing that high office, to chase the abandoned into their secret recesses, and to render them at least timid, if not innocent. By removing such characters from office, and by persevering in a resolution to give lucrative employments only to the most assiduous and correct of the Company's servants, experience shows that much may be done.

Common sense points out the impropriety of allowing: a gambler to occupy any office requiring either great trust, or particular application and vigilance. Now as the posts held under the Company are generally of either one or other of those descriptions, or may perhaps unite both, it is obvious that a man whose brains are ever casting the dice, and whose carriage rolls upon the four aces, never can be safely trusted.

Those who are partial to cards, as an amusement, may find abundance of evening parties where, for the most part, tradille and whist (the favourite games) are played at low stakes, productive of no regret or inconvenience. Quadrille is barely known in India, nor are "round-games" much in use: cribbage is played in some families, and, occasionally, loo. In the games just mentioned, the European inhabitants of Calcutta, as well as those dispersed over the country, are generally proficients, far more so than persons of the same description in England. Many are well acquainted with chess and back-gammon; and excellent players at fives, billiards, &c., are to be found in every quarter.

Cricket is not much in vogue; being confined principally to a club at Calcutta, and to occasional Christmas matches at army stations. On the whole, though as an exercise far less violent than fives, it is less adapted to the climate; the alternate successions of exertion and inactivity [[360]] rendering the players liable to severe colds, and consequent obstructions.

Music may be considered as a great source of gratification in a country where ennui is so much to be dreaded; but the climate is unfavourable to instruments of every kind, especially to pianos, and offers a formidable objection to the indulgence of a musical ear. No persons can be more liberal in their purchases of instruments, or of select music, than the ladies of India; often giving two hundred pounds for a good grand-piano; but the incessant apprehension of warps and cracks is a grievous drawback on the interest they feel in the possession of even the best instrument.

Repairs of every sort, whether of violins, pianos, flutes, &c., are exorbitantly dear, and not always practicable, even at Calcutta, either owing to dissipation, the want of some essential article, or the quantity of work in hand. Nor is it easy to obtain the temporary accommodation of an instrument while one is repairing, unless at such a rate as precludes all of moderate income from availing themselves of the opportunity, when it may chance to offer.

With respect to "preparing an instrument for the climate," much may certainly be done, by using only the best seasoned wood, and clamping the case with metal, both within and without. Yet all this has little connexion with the belly, or sounding-board; which cannot be much strengthened without considerably deteriorating the tone, and causing a piano to be at once condemned, for wanting that richness which cannot be given to one whose vibrations are obstructed. The only chance is to keep a piano well covered with blankets during the heats, as also in very damp weather, and when about to be opened for performance, to unclothe it gradually. By such precautions, it may remain tolerably [[361]] in tune, and not sustain much injury from the variations of seasons. After two or three years the danger may be less; but it will be prudent never to relax in point of prevention, lest the instrument should suddenly fail.

Except such little parties as, in a few families, assemble during the afternoons to enjoy the pleasures arising from the musical talents of some lady, Calcutta has little to offer in this captivating branch of amusement. If we cast out of the account accidental quartette parties, or the solitary warblings of some flute-player, &c., the whole may be deemed a blank. Now and then a subscription concert, for the benefit of a professor [=one who professes to be a musician] who lives more by eleemosynary bounty, than by the encouragement of his abilities, calls the town together, not to listen to the fine melodies and rich harmonies of Haydn, &c, but to see and to be seen, to talk and be talked to.

India is not, indeed, the soil to which a man of science or taste should repair, with the hope of liberal reward for his trouble and expenses; much less of being cherished for genius and acquirements. One or two insulated exceptions are not sufficient to refute this assertion. It must be acknowledged that now and then, a professor has been seen pampering [=being pampered] under the influence of high and boundless patronage; but the per contra shows a number who have lingered through all the penalties attendant upon humble merit, till the grave has kindly terminated their ill-fated labours. Assemblies, balls, routs, &c., are not very numerous in India. The Governor-General, and the Members of Council, occasionally circulate invitations during the cold months; and at times, some spacious public rooms are engaged for the same purpose, on speculation.

Williamson 1810 vol. 2: ((214)) It was not until about twenty years back that the British had any regular church in Bengal, and now they have but one, which was built partly by private aid, and partly by the profits arising from a lottery!!! The latter was, I understand, very forcibly opposed by one or two gentlemen, who considered it as a very unbecoming mode of raising supplies for so holy a purpose. When we reflect that a Portuguese merchant built one, for the use of the Catholics, from his own purse; and that, though he was accounted a rich man, yet his property could not be compared with what various individuals of our own nation, resident in India, can boast; it may be fairly quoted as a singular instance of parsimony against our countrymen.

Not that impiety or disrespect to public worship can be urged against the settlement; for no church can be better attended than that in question: the libe-rality of the inhabitants was partially exemplified by the institution of a free-school, where a number of children, both of Europeans and of native mothers, are educated in a very sufficient ((215)) manner; a circumstance of considerable moment where education is so dear.

This dearness should seem unreasonable, if we only take into account the prices of provisions, which are very low; but we must carry in mind the enormous rates of house-rent; and that whatever may be the profession in which persons proceeding to India engage, the return to Europe with a comfortable independence is the main consideration. Supposing ten thousand pounds to be gained in twenty years, by attention to his pupils, it cannot be denied that a pedagogue is barely rewarded for so great a duration of slavery in such a climate, and at such a distance from all his friends and connections.

Whatever may be the merits of the teachers, nothing could reconcile me to bringing up a child in India. All so educated are rendered unfit for the society of gentlemen who have been brought up in Europe; they know nothing of the world; but while imitating the manners and customs of those they term their countrymen, exercise all that craft which so peculiarly characterizes the native youths. In a moral point of view, the detention of a child, particularly a female, in India, is highly culpable; and when treated of as a matter of economy, will in the end be found equally objectionable.

That the disadvantage under which ((216)) parents labor, in sending their children to Europe, is considerable, must be fully admitted; and, it must also be acknowledged that many may be able to spare a certain monthly, or annual, sum towards education, which could not be furnished at once. Such parents are to be pitied, because they can rarely have a child creditably schooled at Calcutta for less than fifty rupees (£75) per mensem, all charges included; whereas for about half that sum, say for £40, a much better education could be given at excellent schools in various parts of Britain.

If we suppose £150 to be expended in transmitting a child to Europe, and that the sum of £35 be annually saved after arrival here, the difference both principal and interest would be cleared off in about five years; while many important advantages would be gained, and a thousand very obnoxious habits avoided. The encrease of population has been followed by an augmentation in the number of schools; but, if I judge correctly, the latter has been rather beyond what the former should appear to authorize.

The first school that was set up in the vicinity of Calcutta, started about the year 1780, under the charge of a Mrs. Hodges, who succeeded beyond the expectations of her most sanguine patrons and, in the course of about twenty years, realized a very handsome fortune, with great ((217)) credit to herself and, if marrying off at an early age be desirable, with great advantage to numerous young ladies; who, in succession, entrapped the hearts of sundry gay Lotharios, by whom her dancing-room was much frequented.

It would be cruel, and unjust, in the extreme, to assert that young women brought up at such a seminary, were in every respect inferior: it must be admitted that they may dance, play the piano, work at their needle, read, write, and cast accounts, and perhaps speak French: all these may be done to admiration; but, alas! these are, properly speaking, merely mechanical, and, though they may please for a while, never can give that zest depending solely on the enlargement of the mind, and on some knowledge of the world. So true is this, that not one in fifty of the girls thus brought up can hold conversation in any way pleasing or interesting; and, which is worse, the other forty-nine are very apt to be childish, vain, imperious, crafty, vulgar, and wanton! But they are, generally, well formed, pretty active, gay, and, insinuating; therefore we must not wonder at the matches we see take place, nor at the poverty they generally entail upon their husbands, by a certain prolific propensity which may be said to characterize the whole breed.

The several schools in and about Calcutta, ((218)) may be considered on nearly the same footing as in Europe; some dear, others more reasonable; some good, others highly exceptionable. Most of them are well situated, so far as relates to convenience and salubrity; but it appears to me that more than one of the seminaries for young ladies are subject to overlook objects by no means suited to female delicacy, and in a great measure derogatory to the judgment of those who selected such sites for their establishments. Those academies which are about two or there miles out of town are certainly preferable in the above respect; while at the same time, they are not beyond the common distance to which bearers are in the habit of conveying their employers on visits during the forenoon.

The old fort, in which stood the Black Hole rendered so famous by Mr. Holwell's affecting narrative, has been cursorily mentioned. This fortress is now [[362]] converted into public offices and warehouses, for which purposes it is well adapted, from its centrical situation, and the great solidity of the walls, &c. The defences are extremely simple, perhaps sufficient for the times in which they were constructed, and the prowess of the troops by which they were likely to be attacked. Being on the bank of the Hoogly, a retreat by water might be easily effected under the cover of shipping, and thus supplies could generally be afforded.

According to the present system of warfare, and in expectation of an attack by an European army, the smallest reliance could not be safely placed on the old fort, which could serve only as an immediate asylum in the event of insurrection. In this case, many houses that now command the works must be destroyed; which, from the want of cannon on the ramparts, would be no easy operation.

The town is protected chiefly by Fort William, a more modern work, capable of containing at least fifteen thousand men, and indeed requiring nearly ten thousand properly to man the defences. The ordinary garrison consists of two or three regiments of Europeans, a battalion of artillery, with a very large establishment of artificers, &c., attached to the arsenal, where stores of every description are lodged in bomb proofs. Provisions for six months' consumption are always kept in the fort.

A native corps of from four to five thousand, intended to aid in the defence, are cantoned at Barrackpore, a station sixteen miles from Calcutta, on the banks of the river, and exactly facing the Danish town of Serampore. Of these troops, twelve hundred constantly do duty in the fort, being relieved monthly in regular rotation. Fort William is the grand depot of Bengal, and maybe considered as the key to that part of the Company's possessions, if not to the whole; for probably there could be no effectual resistance, [[363]] were that fortress in the hands of an enemy. 

Williamson 1810 vol. 2: ((220)) Such a loss would infallibly destroy the opinion now held of our prowess, and precipitate us from the pinnacle of power, into an awful abyss of ruin! As Mr. Hastings very properly stated, 'our power in the East depends entirely on opinion.' When we consider the immense population over which we hold control, with comparatively an insignificant force, and that that force is composed chiefly of natives, it must immediately occur to us how necessary it is to satisfy our Asiatic subjects that our sway is mild, and that in submitting to us they rescue themselves from tyranny and extortion.

There may arise local circumstances wherein the possession of a stronghold would be invaluable; and rescue us from the most imminent dangers. Of this, our affair with Cheyt Sing is a most obvious and undeniable proof: had not the fortress of Chunar, a place rather of reputed, than of real, strength, been at hand, our force in that part must have been annihilated; when the insurrection would infallibly have spread in every direction.

((221)) Without entering into particulars, I shall give a brief statement of the Company's forces at their several presidencies; observing that the number of their European regiments has been considerably diminished, amounting nearly to a total reduction, for the purpose of making way for the introduction of king's troops. With respect to the European strength, therefore, it must be understood that no fixed establishment exists: but the average amount of that branch, independent of the Company's battalions of artillery and infantry, may be taken at about sixteen or eighteen thousand firelocks, including the cavalry.

Cavalry Infantry Artillery Infantry Marine
Presidencies Native Native Batallions Batallions Batallions

Regiments Regiments European European Native
Bengal 8 27 3 1 0
Madras 8 25 2 1 0
Bombay 0 9 1 1 1

At each presidency, the native regiments are formed into two battalions, with the same strength of European commissioned officers us are allotted to one regiment of Europeans. A colonel commands each regiment, and every battalion has attached to it one lieutenant-colonel and one major, together with a proportion of the ((222)) captains and subaltern officers. Two serjeants are allowed to each battalion, viz. one acting as serjeant-major, the other under the quartermaster.

The companies are commanded by European officers, under whom one soubadar, one jemmadar, five havildars, five naicks, and ninety privates (sepoys) are enrolled. The soubadars and jemmadars have commissions, and are competent to sit on regimental, or line, courts-martial for the trial of natives, whether in the military service, or camp followers. The havildars correspond in rank and duties with our serjeants, and the naicks with our corporals. Each battalion has two grenadier, and eight battalion companies: no recruit is taken whose age exceeds twenty-five, or whose stature does not teach to five feet six inches and a half, or more generally, to five feet seven inches; unless on emergency, or when obvious juvenility warrants the acceptance of an under-sized, candidate who generally, being well fed and taught to stand erect, in the course of drilling over-tops the standard of admission.


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