(58) Amusements, theatres, races, gaming, music, balls, ((education,)) Fort William, military establishments [[355-363]]
[] The amusements of Europeans in India are by no means
nor of any continuance; the climate, the localities, and the
precluding such variety or gratification as may be enjoyed in Europe.
has, however, a very tolerable theatre: central, and sufficiently
to contain what spectators are generally collected from the town.
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 [] 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 [] 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.
[] 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 [] 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 [] 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 [] 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
repair, with the hope of liberal reward for his trouble and expenses;
less of being cherished for genius and acquirements. One or two
exceptions are not sufficient to refute this assertion. It must be
that now and then, a professor has been seen pampering [=being
under the influence of high and boundless patronage; but the per
shows a number who have lingered through all the penalties attendant
humble merit, till the grave has kindly terminated their ill-fated
Assemblies, balls, routs, &c., are not very numerous in India. The
Governor-General, and the Members of Council, occasionally circulate
during the cold months; and at times, some spacious public rooms are
for the same purpose, on speculation.
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 [] 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
defence, are cantoned at Barrackpore, a station sixteen miles from
on the banks of the river, and exactly facing the Danish town of
Of these troops, twelve hundred constantly do duty in the fort, being
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
if not to the whole; for probably there could be no effectual
[] were that fortress in the hands of an enemy.