On the Hooghly – 9

CHAPTER IX

A cargo of coconuts—The Master Pilots—The Chinese guest—I pass for First Mate—Lascar crews—The two widows—Livestock on board—Collecting marine fauna—The bag net—Stewed anemones—Drinking the specimens—Modelling in mud.

HAVING served my year as second mate and returned to the river again for a year as leadsman, I shortly afterwards had the novel experience of piloting a small Indian brig. As on the occasion when I was given the Johannah Kremer to pilot, the station was almost denuded of pilots, there being only one or two of the senior men, who were not at all anxious to board the Hosalee Dede.

It was the north-east monsoon, and a small brig had been in sight for a long while, without arousing much interest or anxiety, as she slowly worked her way to the Sandheads ; the opinion being that she was what was termed a pariah brig, or native craft, which would find her way to Kedgeree and there pick up a native pilot, who would work her up to Calcutta. There were a good many such vessels at that time, and they appeared, together with the Arab dhows, at the commencement of the north-east monsoon. However, this vessel, the Hosalee Dede, hoisted the pilot jack and hovc-to close to us. Nobody wanted her, so she was offered to me, and I was quite glad to have a vessel of any sort to handle.

When I boarded her and took charge she was under topsails only. I soon had all sail on her, but found that she was very tender and heeled over quite a lot. I asked them what cargo they had and they told me that she was full of coconuts from Car Nicobar, whither they had gone with Chinese tobacco which they exchanged for coconuts,

116 THE “HOSALEE DEDE”

117

and the Rajah had made his subjects do the loading. We worked up to the Intermediate on that tide, but had to take the topgallantsails off her as she leaked badly above the waterline when heeling over. The seams in her upper works were quite open, and the pumps were going all the time. I had no knife or fork and had to use my fingers to eat the curry and rice which the crew lived on, and very good it was, too.

They did all they could to make me comfortable. I slept on deck at night, as I did not fancy the cabin, but woke up feeling rather warm, and found that in their anxiety lest I should catch cold or get a chill they had piled all sorts of dubious-looking cloths and rugs on me. We worked into Saugor on the second day, the pumps going all the time. After we had anchored I made a sketch of the captain and, as they seemed interested, drew all sorts of fabulous animals for their amusement, dragons, winged tigers, and things of that sort. I heard one of them explaining to the others that such beasts were common in Belat.

At Mud Point the captain decided to engage a tug which was coming down singlehanded looking for a job. We were leaking badly and the crew tired out with continual pumping. The price he had to pay was Rs. 600. When I asked him if he could afford it, he replied that they had 300,000 coconuts on board and that the market price would be about Rs. 60 a thousand. Not a bad profit on the Chinese tobacco, for which he had paid very little. We towed up to town the next day. She paid pilotage on fifteen feet owing largely to the water in her hold. I quite enjoyed the experience, and liked the people. When she departed she must have been taken down by one of the Kedgeree men, for I heard nothing more about her. I think she only came to the station for a pilot because she was leaking so badly.

No other similar stroke of luck came my way during the year on the river before going up to pass for mate. I was kept busy heaving the lead in vessels of all sorts, shapes and 118

ON THE HOOGHLY

sizes, and with pilots of varying personality. I was now sufficiently adept at the craft to be able to distinguish good work from bad and to appraise each one of my temporary masters at his proper value. The general level of efficiency was fairly high and even. There were, however, several men in each grade who stood out from among their fellows as being better equipped with the essential qualities of nerve, coolness and resourcefulness in emergency.

Mr. A. J. Milner, who followed Mr. Daly as Senior Branch Pilot, was certainly one of them. He had joined the Service in 1852, when the work of the port was practically all sail, and like most of the men of his time could make a sailing vessel do everything but talk. He was equally good with steam. But he was not popular with the leadsmen, as he kept the lead going all the time, merely calling the leadsman in for meals, and indeed was probably not very popular anywhere, for he was dour and unsympathetic. But he was a fine pilot, and also a good judge of a horse. I have already mentioned Mr. W. H. Lindquist, the special pilot to the

P. & 0., who was in the same class as Mr. Milner.

Among the Master Pilots I would have given the palm to

R. Rust, S. Ransom, J. Christie, F. T. Rayner, but there were many others almost equally good at the work. W. Kendal, for instance, who was one of the licensed pilots, was a very fine seaman and probably as good with a windjammer as anyone afloat. I recall an occasion when he was sailing a laden vessel up the river in the south-west monsoon and had an altercation with Captain Hamer who was then commanding the tug Battler and wanted the job of towing the ship up. As there was a fine southerly breeze Kendal was all for sailing to Calcutta and making a little extra over and above the pilotage. As they ran up from Mud Point to Kulpee the Battler kept close under their stern and occasionally hailed them with the suggestion that they should take his hawsers. At Diamond Harbour the wind fell light and Hamer, ranging alongside, again repeated his request. His exact words were, ” Well, what’s it going to HONOURS EVEN

liD

be, eggs or young ‘uns ? ” I remember this because the conversation which ensued was of such a lurid description that the matter had to be settled by a court of enquiry. I forget which of the two called for a court, but I know that it sat to investigate the circumstances of the quarrel. Strong language had been used by both parties, but experts considered that Kendal had shown greater originality, some of his expletives being quite new to the Hooghly and

BRANCH PILOTS HUDSON AND R. RUST

probably acquired by him during his sea service. The court considered the case very carefully, and as a result both parties left without ” a stain on their character.”

Christie was for some time special pilot for the China mail steamers, and, his wife being in England, he lived in a flat with E. F. Hudson and Mrs. Hudson. The latter was a very good manageress and kept an excellent table. With them also lived Frank Collingwood, who later on, as a Branch Pilot, was in command of the brig Fame in the cyclone of November, 1891, when the Coleroon was lost. i20

ON THE HOOGHLY

He was a big, burly man, a confirmed bachelor, and quite a good fellow.

In the course of his journeyings to andfromPenanginthe China mail steamers Christie had made the acquaintance of several important Chinese, and amongst them Hong Ke, a Chinese gentleman of wealth and culture, whom he held in high esteem. This gentleman being in Calcutta on some matter of business, Christie invited him to tea in the flat, and introduced him to Mr. and Mrs. Hudson. Seated in the drawing-room they were quietly enjoying the sandwiches and other delicacies which Mrs. Hudson had prepared for the occasion when Collingwood, who had been down the river, suddenly appeared in the doorway. The only Chinamen he knew anything about were the Chinese bootand shoe-makers who had rows of shops in Bentinck Street, and on catching sight of the great Hong Ke he shouted in his breezy manner, ” Hullo, John, makee one piecee boot ? ” to the mortification of Christie, who, when he told the story afterwards, used to say, ” There he stood, in the doorway, rolling his great stupid head, and grinning like an idiot. I felt so ashamed.”

Many of the pilots with whom I hove the lead at this time would let me look out and take charge of the vessel for quite long stretches of the river, especially when bound up on board of a steamer in ballast. They generally, however, relieved me as we approached the James and Mary’s. I remember one occasion, though, when we were going up on a strong flood tide and the pilot came along to the bridge, that I asked him to let me ” take her across the Gut,” and being a good-natured soul he said, ” All right, carry on,” thereby adding greatly to my sense of self-esteem, a very necessary quality in a pilot’s make-up.

Having finished the year on the river I went up for first mate. The examiners were Christie and Rayner, who declared themselves satisfied with my knowledge of seamanship and of the river. Shortly afterwards I was appointed to the Cassandra. MY YEAR AS MATE

121

I spent my year as mate very happily on the Cassandra. She was commanded by Mr. J. Barnet, an extremely nice man to serve under, good looking and well made. He left the management of the crew and things generally to his mate, and interfered very little. We had a good serang, Ejut Ali, and a good crew of lascars, who gave no trouble. As I look back I realise what wonderful fellows they were. The boat would be hoisted out, sent away and hoisted in again perhaps several times in the course of the night, with possibly quite a long stiff pull in a choppy sea. They might be drenched with salt water or rain ; but never a complaint and always ready for the next job.

I recall two tragic incidents. The first occurred shortly after I joined the Cassandra.

We were lying in the moorings refitting, and the men weTe working aloft, reeving running gear and bending sails, when a lascar fell from the fore yard, landed on the norman pin (an iron bar which fitted into the windlass) and bounced off on to the deck. He was very badly hurt and only lived for a few minutes. The widow, accompanied by two children, came on board about half an hour after the accident. The second mate, the four leadsmen attached to the brig and I, being young and impulsive, immediately made her a present of all the money we had in our pockets. I forget the amount, probably not very much, for we were never overburdened with wealth. She departed calling down blessings on our heads. But almost immediately another woman came on board and introduced herself as the real widow, declaring by all the gods that the first lady was an impostor. What was to be done ? We were cleaned out and there was no possibility of recovering the cash, which had disappeared for ever.

The second case was that of a man who fell from aloft a few days after we had gone on the station after a spell in town. It was blowing hard and the foretopsail was being reefed, when a man suddenly fell backwards off the yard on to the fore brace, which broke his fall, and thence to the 122

OX THE

HOOGHLY

deck. He had no broken bones, but had evidently received some internal injury, and died that evening. A couple of days after, orders came down to send him up to town as he was charged with the murder of a woman. The men who were with him on the yard were convinced by his exclamation before he fell that the ghost of the dead woman had appeared to him. They were all very superstitious and firm believers in bhuts or ghosts.

As mate I kept watch during the day alternately with the second mate, and came on at four every morning, relieving the pilot A\ ho had kept the two to four watch. As a rule the Eastern Channel Light was in sight somewhere to the northward. If I could not pick it up I would run up until I sighted it, and then bring her to the wind again. In cruising we kept on the port tack as much as possible when the tide was running ebb, until the Light bore about east-north-east, and then went round on the starboard tack until the Light bore about north. The mornings always felt fresh and invigorating and it was pleasant to watch the day breaking. At six the crew were turned out to wash decks. The sheep, of which we had perhaps a dozen or more, were also washed at the same time, and the coir mats on which the sheep stood in their pen were towed overboard until they were sweet and clean. On either side, fore and aft, were hencoops stocked with ducks and fowls, and forward of the sheep-pen lived the geese in their pen.

At six the pilots began to appear on deck in their pyjamas ready for their cup of coffee and a biscuit, and we rigged up the bathhouse, a square canvas tent with a perforated metal disc in the roof through which the hose was played on the man bathing. Everyone had to be properly dressed for the day by eight o’clock.

Mr. Barnct had a small collection of books which he put at my disposal and I made the acquaintance of Lubbock, Darwin, Haeckel, Buchner, Lyell, and others. I always read for an hour after breakfast. COLLECTING MARINE FAUNA

128

and then wrote up the books and attended to any correspondence, interviewed the butler and kept account of any liquor consumed. There was always plenty to do. During my year the Cassandra had one spell of six months on end at the Sandheads owing to extensive repairs to one of the other brigs, and I did not find the time drag at all.

The Chinsurah was condemned and a new iron brig, the Sarsuti, came out from England. She was a very strong little vessel with a high rail, always very hot in warm weather and slow, but would stand up to any amount of wind, in fact she was at her best in hard weather, and was comparatively comfortable then. When a brig was considered no longer fit for service as a pilot vessel she usually continued her career as a lightship. These were fitted with three masts and carried quite large crews for vessels of that class. This was to enable them to work back if blown off their station in a cyclone. The Chinsurah was probably not considered sound enough for service as a lightship and became the headquarters of the Calcutta Naval Volunteers. She was moored just below the memorial known as the Pepper Box.

During my year as mate of the Cassandra the brigs were supplied with small trawls with which to collect specimens of marine fauna which might be living on the bed of the sea at the Sandheads. We were also given a supply of methylated spirits and some glass jars in which to preserve anything we could dredge up. The specimens were to be handed over to the Calcutta Museum. This was an entirely fresh interest for us and the officers of the brigs embarked on this new field of research with great enthusiasm. We had always fished with large surface nets for shrimps, bumalo and pomfret when lying at anchor in calm weather ; generally in the north-east monsoon, and the crew were keen fishermen with hand lines and got to work as soon as the anchor was down, pulling up catfish to add variety to their curry and rice. 124

ON THE HOOGHLtf

The surface net was a large bag tapering off in a long tail, with an opening at the end which was tied up before the net was put over. This bag net was mounted on a couple of spars lashed together in the form of a cross. The vertical spar had a heavy bit of kentledge attached to its lower end to keep it down, and to its upper end was lashed a tackle from the main yardarm with which to hoist the net over the side and to lift it when we wanted to collect its contents. When in the water it was kept in position by three guys, one from each arm of the cross and one from the lower end of the vertical spar. We caught all sorts of things besides the bumalo and chingrees which swarmed on the surface and were a very welcome addition to our ordinary fare.

The net was hauled up at the end of each watch at night, the tail of the bag pulled on deck, unfastened, and the contents emptied into a dekchi or large metal dish, from which the crew ate their curry and rice. The catch was cautiously inspected by the light of a lantern, for there were nearly always one or two snakes to be seen mixed up with the rest of the collection. These snakes were, as a rule, about a yard and a half long and marked with black and yellow bands. I believe they were poisonous, but they were sluggish and dazed, out of their native element, and I never heard of anyone being bitten by one of them. Most of the haul would consist of shrimps and bumalo, these latter being what we valued most, for when properly cooked they took a lot of beating as a table delicacy, and we could not get them in Calcutta. We also caught little silver fish which made excellent whitebait. Occasionally a small shark found its way into the net, and would be knocked on the head and thrown overboard, for the sailorman shows no mercy to the shark, his natural enemy. We also got little fish which blew themselves up until they looked like small balloons.

With the small trawls with which we were now supplied we dredged up all sorts of curious creatures. Sea spiders, a A NEW DISH

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queer-looking thing resembling a yam or sweet potato, but evidently an animal of sorts, for its viscera was visible through its transparent skin, we caught also small black bodies which looked like the indiarubber teats of-a baby’s feeding-bottle. These last puzzled us, until I put one into a tumbler of salt water, when after a little time it expanded into an oblong anemone opening out at one end as a blue and white flower. If while it was expanding it was touched with a penholder or pencil, it would constrict in the place where it was being touched, and one could regulate its shape very much as one chose.

It struck me that these little black things, nicely boiled and served with a white sauce, would make quite an attractive-looking dish, and I suggested to my commander, Mr. Barnet, that we might try them. He raised no objection, and as Mr. Branch Pilot W , a great authority on gastronomy and an expert exponent of the culinary art, happened to be on board at the time, I arranged with the cook that the succulent dainty should be served up that day at dinner, and that the dish should be placed in front of me. My place at mess was opposite the captain, next to whom was seated Mr. Branch Pilot W , a big man with a florid complexion, who had a very good opinion of himself and of his own importance. When the dish was uncovered it did not look at all bad, the little black things showing daintily through the white sauce, and it immediately caught Mr. W ‘s eye.

” What have we here ? ” he exclaimed. ” Mushrooms ‘( Or are they truffles ? “

I told the butler to take the dish to Mr. W thai lie might help himself, which he did liberally and took a good mouthful of the new delicacy. I watched him closely, but instead of the pleased expression of a gourmet who has discovered a new and delicious dish his face became a deep crimson and his eyes expressed horror and fear. He hastily made his way on deck and audibly got rid of the unwelcome morsel. 126

ON THE HOOGHLY

When he returned to the festive board he was in a very nasty temper.

” Mud,” he shouted. ” Mud and sand. Where did you get the infernal stuff ? “

He was right, for I tasted one very gingerly and it was as unpalatable as it could be. He took a lot of pacifying, and needless to say the dish did not again appear on the menu.

We sent up to the museum quite a large collection of specimens as the result of our dredging operations. The mate of the Sarsuti, the other brig at the Sandheads at the time, was distressed by the manner in which his commander would jam all the different specimens together in one bottle. Said he bitterly:

” The old fool has spoilt a lovely lot of spiders by jamming them in with a lot of sweet potato. He rams them in with a fork and breaks all their legs off.”

I had no trouble of that sort and was allowed to arrange the specimens as I chose. In a short time there was a wellfilled row of bottles and pickle jars hanging under the awning boom, and amongst them an extra large jar which contained a fine snake, for I thought the museum ought to have one.

On coming on watch one dark morning at four a.m. I thought I saw a figure standing on the skylight and touching the specimens. Approaching cautiously I was horrified to find a gentleman who had had his grog stopped, busily engaged slaking his thirst from the snake jar. When I remonstrated with him he said that had I been possessed of any delicacy of feeling I would not have noticed what he was doing. I apologised for my lack of delicacy and pleaded in excuse my anxiety for the safe preservation of the specimens, which had been collected with a good deal of trouble and would certainly deteriorate if they were deprived of the spirit in which they were being preserved. I also promised him a glass of whisky if he refrained from touching the specimens. Fortunately he departed during the course A SAD DISASTER

127

of the day and I had no more trouble with the collection, which is possibly still in the museum.

It was about this time that a ship arrived at the Sandheads which had lost all the apprentices, six in number, while rounding the Cape. The hands were aloft reefing the topsails, when one of the apprentices lost his hold and fell overboard. The ship was hove-to and one of the boats put out, and manned by the apprentices. They pulled in the direction in which their companion had last been seen and were soon lost to sight from the ship, as a heavy rain squall came on just then, and when it had cleared off there was no sign of the boat anywhere. The captain cruised about in the locality until nightfall and then very reluctantly abandoned all hope and continued on his voyage. I cannot be sure of the name of the ship, but to the best of my recollection it was the British Yeoman which thus lost all her apprentices.

I cannot be certain either of the name of a vessel which came in with her poop completely gutted by a sea which had washed away all the after-cabins, and with them the chronometers and navigating instruments. Their only chronometer was the mate’s watch. One of the apprentices had a sextant and some books which, being in the forward deckhouse, had escaped, and with these they had managed to navigate the vessel to the Sandheads.

When catting the anchor one day on the brig I collected some of the black clayey mud which came up with it and found that it was quite serviceable for modelling. I had made friends in Calcutta with Mr. Purchas, the Deputy Mint Master, who sometimes invited me to dinner. He had living with him Count Von Langa, the artist, who designed the coins and medals at the Mint, and whose work I much admired. I had looked on while he amused himself by making a portrait in clay of Mr. Purchas, and I decided to try my hand at modelling with the black mud. It worked quite well and I made several medallions in low relief, which the sitters were kind enough to consider good 128

ON THE HOOGHLY

likenesses of themselves. Whether they were so or not, I got a lot of amusement out of it. Amongst others I did heads of C. CoUingwood, senior, and W. T. Wawn, who was himself fond of working in water colour and generally had some little sketches of effects on the river to show me when he came on board.

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