(59) Bore, brackish waters, preservation of rain-water [[363-367]]
"It has been several times my lot," says Captain Williamson, "when proceeding with the last of the tide from Barrackpore to Calcutta, to meet the bore, generally near Chitpore; but as its approach was indicated by the putting off of all the small craft from that shore, along which it invariably pursued its course, and to remain near which would be dangerous, my boatmen always followed the example, and kept along the centre; where, though we were furiously tossed about, no danger existed. Once, indeed, in turning Sulkypoint in a sailing boat, I was obliged to dash through the bore, which I did not suppose to be so near, notwithstanding the dingies, &c., were putting out. The surf assuredly appeared awful, but we mounted over it, stem on, without difficulty, and speedily recovered from a certain pallid complexion which had insensibly crept over our countenances as we approached the roaring waters."
From what has been said, it must be evident that the bore travels at the same rate as the incipient spring-tide, the velocity of which is different in various parts, but may be taken at an average of full twenty miles within the hour. Notwithstanding this rapidity, vessels such as budjrow and other craft intended for pleasure or for burden, ordinarily ride safe at anchor, sustaining no injury from the bore, though they may perhaps drag their [] anchors a few yards. But to insure this security, care mast be taken that the broadside should not be exposed, else there will be great danger of over-setting. This danger is not unfrequent, owing to the manjies and dandies (boatmen) neglecting, especially during the night, to swing the stern round, either by means of a spring, or a small hawser, or by higgles (bamboo-poles), so that the vessel's head may meet the bore in its direct course.
Those who are anxious to make the best of their way, should not delay putting off till the tide may have fairly set in, but ought to be out in the stream just as the bore is ranging along the bank. They may thus receive the first impulse, which is prodigiously forcible, and endeavour, by the exertions of their boatmen, to keep up as much as possible with the leading waters. It is wonderful how great a difference this sometimes makes in the start from Calcutta. Sometimes a budjrow may by this precaution reach beyond Bandle, and nearly to the ultimatum of the tide's way, after which the current is invariably in opposition, at various rates, according to the season of the year.
During the dry season, which lasts from the end of October to the middle of June, though sometimes the rains are of greater duration, or set in earlier, the Hoogly is nearly in a state of rest above Nia-serai; but during the rains, and especially about August and September, not only the beds of the rivers, but the country around, present a formidable body of water. Within the banks the current may average from four to eight miles an hour, according to localities; but what is called the inundation rarely exceeds half a mile, and scarcely ever moves at a full mile within that time.
In this, due allowance must be made for the state of the waters, whether rising or falling. In the former case, they will become nearly stationary till they may overflow [] where nearest the sea, and thus obtain a vent. In the latter case, such parts as may be near to great rivers, then subsiding within their banks, must be greatly accelerated.
As the parched soil of Egypt is refreshed by the overflowing of the Nile, so the waters of the Ganges, by their annual expansion and abundance, renew the fertility of many millions of acres, and restore the blessings of health to those industrious and peaceable peasantry inhabiting that flat country through which they majestically wind their course.
At Calcutta and Dacca, each of which is about seventy miles from the sea, the water is unpalatable, from its saline impregnation. Even the sand taken from the beds of rivers is found to retain so much moisture, notwithstanding the heat of the climate, as to disqualify it from mixture in the cements used for building, but especially for making tarrases, known in England under the designation of grist floors.
The great tank at Calcutta, occupying about ten acres, is not less than two hundred yards from the river. The soil is generally a rich sandy loam near the surface, but becomes looser, and inclinable to a fine gravel, after digging about ten feet. The tank is about sixty feet from the top of its banks (which are level with the streets) to its bottom; and the river is from four to seven fathoms deep opposite its site. It might be supposed that such a distance would secure the waters of the tank from becoming brackish; but the soil favours the communication with the river, and during the hot season occasions the tank to be so strongly impregnated, as to be unfit either for culinary purposes, or for washing.
It is. more remarkable, that the walls in the different outworks of Fort William, some of them four or five hundred yards from [] the river, partake equally of the moisture. On this account the Government were at a great expense in forming an immense reservoir (to be filled, if required, by rain water), occupying the whole of one of the bastions.
During the rainy season, the rivers are full up to their banks, and run with such force, often six or eight miles in the hour, as to occasion the tide to be little felt, either at Calcutta or Dacca. Thus the whole of the water, both of the rivers and of the tanks and wells, becomes fresh and pure. On the other hand, during the hot months, viz. March, April, May, and part of June, when except during a north-wester, or a squall incident to the season, not a drop of rain is to be expected, the waters are everywhere proportionably low; and as the tides come up with extreme force, the portion of sea-water must be considerable. Such is the fact; for those who visit either Calcutta or Dacca at that season, and drink even of the tank-water, are sure to feel its cathartic effects, and eventually to suffer under a kind of itch, which is very troublesome.
At Dacca, where the air more saline, all visitors undergo the penance of a copius eruption. Some old residents have a return of it every hot season, though extremely careful never to touch river water. Like the inhabitants of Calcutta, they allot a spacious godown to the reception of immense jars of earthen-ware, which, being placed side by side, in close rows, are successively filled by the ab-dar, or servant whose business is confined to the care and the cooling of water for table expenditure. The water thus preserved is caught in large vessels, placed under several vessels, during heavy rains. The quantity varies according to the consumption; but that of a family at Calcutta may be computed at full sixty or seventy hogsheads within the year.
In the course of a few weeks, in each vessel will [] be found innumerable larvae, occasioned by musquitoes and other insects, which would in time taint the fluid. It is therefore customary to strain the whole immediately as the larvae are discovered, and afterwards to plunge into each jar an immense mass of iron, made red-hot; to destroy whatever animalculae have escaped through the strainer. Some alum is then dissolved in water, and a sufficient quantity put into each vessel to [re]fine its contents. Some, after the foregoing operations (and the practice should be more generally adopted), sprinkle a quantityof very fine sand on the surface of the water in each jar; thereby giving to whatever gross particles it may contain, a tendency to precipitation.
It may, at first view, appear that in the common course of society, gentlemen must be subject to partake of water not so scrupulously purified, and perhaps brought from some neighbouring tank, or from a river impregnated by the influx of a brackish tide. Such may be the case occasionally; but it will be found, on reference to what has been said of the duties of the ab-dar, or water servant, that purified water is carried by a bearer, in a bangy or perhaps in a soorye, or earthen jug, to the house at which his master dines. In camp, it is a general custom for every guest's servant to supply his master with water of his own purifying, either by means of alum, or some other similar astringent.