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CALCUTTA TO SIBNIBASHI.
DEPARTURE-PINNACE-BENGALEE BOAT-HINDOO FANATICS-NORTH
WESTER-CHINSURA-RANAGHAT-SIBNIBASHI-RUINS RAJA OMICHUND-DURBAR-DECOITS.
JUNE 15.-This morning I left Calcutta for my Visitation through the Upper Provinces. This excursion, to which both my wife and I had long looked forwards with delightful anticipations, will now become a dreary banishment to me, as the state of her own health, and the circumstance of her having an infant, are considered as insuperable obstacles to her undertaking such a journey. Accompanied by my domestic chaplain, Mr. Stowe, I embarked on board a fine 16 oared pinnace for Dacca, which was to be the first station on my Visitation. After about two hours squabbling with the owner and navigators of the vessel, we got under weigh, with a fine south breeze and the flood-tide. Archdeacon Corrie, with his wife and children, accompanied us in a budgerow, and we had two smaller boats, one for cooking, the other for our baggage. We advanced to Barrackpoor that night, and in order to make up for lost time, I urged the boatmen forwards a good while after it was dark, the river being familiar to us all. The lights in Serampoor and Barrackpoor, the tall massive shadows of the Government House, and of two state barges in the river, which by this uncertain light appeared like vessels of considerable importance, made our anchoring place very beautiful. Soon after we were made snug for the night, a strong storm of rain and wind came on. Our course during this day was pretty steadily north-north-west by quarter west,—the distance 24 miles.
June 16.-We weighed anchor about half-past four, and arrived at Chandernagore by half-past nine. We there paid the Governor, Mons. Pelissier, a visit, who pressed us to stay dinner with him, which invitation we accepted. The Governor's house has been much beautified since I was here before, and now has really a very handsome appearance. Between Barrackpoor and Chandernagore are some large and handsome pagodas, which are, however, excelled in beauty by one of a smaller size, under a noble
grove of tall trees. A Bengalee boat is the simplest and rudest of all possible
structures. It is decked over, throughout its whole length, with bamboo; and on this is erected a low light fabric of bamboo and straw, exactly like a small cottage without a chimney. This is the cabin, baggage room, &c.; here the passengers sit and sleep, and here, if it be intended for a cooking-boat, are one or two small ranges of brick-work, like English hot-hearths, but not rising more than a few inches above the deck, with small, round, sugar-loaf holes, like those in a lime-kiln, adapted for dressing victuals with charcoal. As the roof of this apartment is by far too fragile for men to stand or sit on, and as the apartment itself takes up nearly two-thirds of the vessel, upright bamboos are fixed by its side, which support a kind of grating of the same material, immediately above the roof, on which, at the height probably of six or eight feet above the surface of the water, the boatmen sit or stand to work the vessel. They have, for oars, long bamboos, with circular boards at the end, a longer one of the same sort to steer with, a long rough bamboo for a mast, and one, or sometimes two sails, of a square form, (or rather broader above than below,) of very coarse and flimsy canvass. Nothing can seem more clumsy or dangerous than these boats. Dangerous I believe they are, but with a fair wind they sail over the water merrily. The breeze this morning carried us along at a good rate, yet our English-rigged brig could do no more than keep up with the cooking boat.
There is a large ruined building a few miles to the south of Chandernagore, which was the country house of the Governor, during the golden days of that settlement, and of the French influence in this part of India. It was suffered to fall to decay when Chandernagore was seized by us; but when Mr. Corrie came to India, was, though abandoned, still entire, and very magnificent, with a noble stair-case, painted ceilings, &c.; and altogether, in his opinion, the finest building of the kind in this country. It has at present a very melancholy aspect, and in some degree reminded me of Moreton-Corbet,* having, like that, the remains of Grecian pillars and ornaments, with a high carved pediment. In beauty of decoration, however, it falls far short of Moreton-Corbet, in its present condition. This is the only visible sign of declining prosperity in this part of the country. The town of Chandernagore itself, though small, is neat, and even handsome. It has a little Catholic church, and some very tolerable streets, with respectable dwelling-houses. An appearance of neatness and comfort is exhibited by the native villages; and, as an Indian generally lays out some of his superfluous wealth in building or adding to a pagoda, it is a strong mark of progressive
* A ruinous building in Shropshire.Ed.
and rapid improvement to say, as Mr. Corrie did to-day, that all the large pagodas between “Calcutta and this place bave been founded, or rebuilt, in his memory.". This, however, I n ust confess, does not tell much for the inclination of the Hindoos to receive a new religion. Indeed, except in our schools, 1 see no appearance of it. The austerities and idolatries exercised by them, strike me as much, or I think more,
I them. A few days since I saw a tall, large, elderly man, nearly naked, walking with three or four others, who suddenly knelt down one after the other, and catching hold of his foot kissed it repeatedly. The man stood with much gravity to allow them to do so, but said nothing. He had the string (“ peeta”) of a Brahmin. Another man passed us on Sunday morning last, hopping on one foot. He was a devotee who had made a vow never to use the other, which was now contracted, and shrunk close up to his hams. Lately, too, I saw a man who held his hands always above his head, and had thus lost the power of bringing them down to his sides. In general, however, I must own that these spectacles are not so common, at least so far as I can yet judge, as, before I came to India, I expected to find them.
Chandernagore was taken by Lord Clive and Admiral Watson, in 1757, after a gallant and bloody defence: and it is worth recording, as a proof of the alterations which have taken place in this branch of the Ganges, that Watson brought up a 74 gun ship to batter it. It was afterwards restored to the French, who lost it again during the war of the Revolution, but who have now received some favours from the English Government, at which, when compared with the severity shown towards the colonists of Serampoor, the latter think they have reason to repine.
We spent a very pleasant evening with Mons. Pelissier. Our party consisted of his wife, daughter, and son, the physician and secretary of the factory, and an Abbé, whom I supposed to be the chaplain. The little church, which I had seen from the beach, belongs to the “ Thibet Mission,” a branch of the Society“ pro propagande fide," at Rome, which seems to extend its cares all over India, which it supplies for the most part with Italian priests, though my old visiter, the Rev. Jacob Mecazenas, the Georgian monk, is one of its agents. They have a bishop somewhere near Agra, an Italian, and the priests (for I understood there were more than one at Chandernagore) are of this nation also. Wc returned to our pinnace soon after ten.
June 17.-About two o'clock this morning we had a northwester, accompanied with violent thunder and lightning. lasted about two hours, and was so severe, that we could not but feel thankful that it had not overtaken us the night before, while we were under sail. I have never heard louder thunder, or seen
so vivid and formidable lightning. Happily, our attendant boats were close in shore, under the shelter of the high bank, while our own mariners did their work exceedingly well and quietly, letting go a second anchor, and veering out as much cable as they had on board. After having done all that under such circumstances was to be done, they gave the cry of “ Allah hu Allah!” and went to prayers, a circumstance which, unaccompanied as it was by any marks of confusion or trepidation, gave me a very favourable impression of them, though I afterwards recollected that it was in fact pretty near the hour when that call is uttered from the mosque, which used to thrill me when I heard it in the Crimea, “ Prayer'is better than sleep! prayer is better than sleep!” Our boat, with this length of cable, rode well and easily, but we had some troublesome work in closing the cabin windows, as our rooms, and all they contained, were getting a complete cold bath. Indeed, there really ran something like a sea in the channel of the river where we now lay. What passed gave me confidence in the vessel and her crew. The latter are numerous, sixteen rowers, four men accustomed to the management of the sails, and the serang,
all Mussulmans, and natives of Dacca, and its vicinity. They are wild and odd-looking people, light-limbed, and lean, and very black, but strong and muscular, and all young men, with a fiercer
and far less civil manner than the Hindoos of Calcutta, to which expression of character their dress contributes, (when they wear any, which is the case this cool morning,) being old uniform jackets of the infantry and artillery, with red caps and dirty turbans wrapped round them. As they sat round the fire this morning, cooking their victuals for breakfast, they might pass for no bad representatives of Malay pirates. The wind, though much abated, continued till after five to blow so hard, that the boatmen declined heaving anchor; but having then shifted to the south again, we set off, and sailed with great rapidity by Chinsura and Hooghly, which form almost one town, with some large and handsome, though deserted-looking, houses. At Chinsura is a church, and beyond Hooghly, at a place I believe named Banda, is a large Italian-looking church, with what appears to be a convent. The river here contracts very much, the banks are higher and more precipitous, and the view of the channel, with our little fleet in it, extremely picturesque and pretty. I hailed Mr. Corrie, and was glad to hear they had sustained no damage in the storm. The river now again expanded into a broad sheet of water, with rice-grounds on each side, and the villages further removed from each other, but each marked out by its wood of tall fruit trees. The country, except that the river is so much wider, is not at all unlike some parts of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire on the Thames. There are fewer pagodas to be
seen, and none so handsome as those we have passed. There is, however, a rather more abundant sprinkling of European-like houses and bungalows, the residences of the indigo planters, as our boatmen tell us. And one of the villages, which has two or three brick houses, and a small low tower attached to one of them, was interesting to us, from the sort of resemblance it offered to some in our own dear England. A little above this village we passed “ a sign of a civilized country,” being a gibbet, with two men in chains on it, who were, as our Serang told us, executed two years ago for robbery and murder in this neighbourhood, but not on the river. The district bears a bad name for all sorts of robbery. A mile or two higher up is a large island, which seems to have been recently deserted by the stream, and not yet taken possession of by man, being mostly bare sand, and bordered by long grass and reeds (not bamboos), a very likely place for wild beasts to harbour. It was indeed in this neighbourhood that Mrs. Corrie saw the fresh print of a tiger's feet, exactly like those of a cat, but cach as large as a good sized plate. Here again the banks of the river are precipitous, and Southey might have taken the spot as the scene of his Kailyal, and the image of her guardian goddess falling down the crumbling steep into the river. A few miles further brought us to a broad channel, which diverged to our right hand from the main bed of the river, being in fact a stream flowing into the Hooghly, and itself derived from the Matabunga, a branch of the great Ganges, which flows from the neighbourhood of Jellinghy to the centre of the Sunderbunds. This, when there is water enough to float large vessels, is the most direct communication between Calcutta and Dacca, and we had some reason to hope we might find it navigable at present. We anchored therefore at the mouth, and sent the jolly-boat with the Serang and Abdullah,* to make inquiry at Seebpoor, a place where toll is paid, a little within the entrance. I sent Abdullah, who speaks English, in the belief that an European was stationed there, from whom he was more likely to obtain information than a Dandee. In the meantime, and after they had been gone a quarter of an hour, the wind changed two points more westerly, and began to blow harder, so that I perceived we should have some difficulty to avoid going ashore, from which we were scarcely half a cable's length distant. I therefore proposed to the boatmen to weigh anchor, and proceed a little farther, while yet we had the power. They readily assented, and were going to do so, when the return of the Serang put a stop to our proceedings.
* This man was a Mussulman convert of Mr. Corrie's, who had travelled in Persia with Sir Gore Ousley, and accompanied him to England, from whence he was returning in the Grenville, in a state of great poverty, when the Bishop took hiin into his service as “ jemautdar," or head officer of the Peons.-Ev.