ON THE HOOGHLY Chapter 12

CHAPTER XII

Scenting a tow—On the Chittagong run—A leg of pork—The James and Mary shoal—The loss of the Swallow—Loss of the Mahratta—Turkeys from Chittagong.

AFTER going through the False Point cyclone I was put on board the barque Cynosure at 10.30 on September 24th. I see from the pocket-book that the captain’s name was Semple and that she was drawing fourteen feet. We sailed into Saugor and anchored. This vessel was bringing a cargo of horses from Australia, and as was usual with such a cargo there were windsails rigged over each hatch to send a current of air down below.

As we sailed through the Gasper Channel I sighted a sailing vessel hull down to the westward. I had never before seen a sailing ship in such a position, for the Western Channel had not been used in my time or indeed for many years past; so I concluded that the captain had mistaken his position and that on discovering his mistake he would haul his wind on the starboard tack and stand down again, but as we came to anchor I saw that he was standing to the westward close hauled; evidently he had sighted us and decided to come in our direction, for he wore round and stood straight for us although between us stretched for miles the Long Sand, parts of which would be dry at low water. We could do nothing to help him for he was hull down and would not have been able to read our signals. I watched him through my glass, knowing that the course ho was steering was bound to put him ashore, and when I saw the courses being clewed up and the topgallant halyards let go I knew that he had got there. The ship was the

167 158

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Star of A lb ion with a cargo of coal. She became a total loss, but the crew were taken off.

On the following day we sighted a smoke to the northward, and as it might be a tug I had the windsails taken down so as to give nothing away, for the tug would put up the price if he knew that we had a cargo of horses which it was important to put on shore as soon as possible. It was a tug, the Retriever, Captain Hamer. We offered him a thousand rupees for the tow up. Before replying Hamer steamed right round us and as he passed to leeward and the pungent odour of the stable struck his nostrils he cried out, ” You’ve got horses aboard.” It was useless to deny the fact, and the barque had to pay accordingly. We could not make a start that day, so Hamer said that he would go and have a look at the ship ashore on the western edge of the Long Sand. He had to make a long detour to get to her, and when he came ahead next morning told me that the captain of the ship would not engage him.

In the following year (1886) I became special pilot for the little Chittagong mail steamers. This meant taking the steamer down the Hooghly and going on with her across the head of the Bay of Bengal to Chittagong and there awaiting the return steamer, which I took up to Calcutta where I stayed until the next mail steamer left.

Chittagong is situated a few miles up the Kornafuli river and is a picturesque collection of small hills on which the bungalows of the residents are built. At that time each bungalow stood on its own hill. There was a small club where I usually stayed, but I was frequently invited to put up with one or other of the hospitable residents. The European population was small, consisting of the Commissioner, Mr, David Lyall, the Collector, Mr. Manson, the Judge, Mr. Hardinge, Magistrate, Mr. Douglas, Superintendent of Police, Mr. T. Orr, and the various gentlemen in charge of the commercial houses. They were all very friendly and sociable and I retain many happy memories of my year on the Chittagong run. CHITTAGONG

159

In the morning everyone went for a ride on his or her pony. After breakfast the Government officials went to their Courts or Kutcherries and the business men to their offices. In the afternoon tennis or racquets, followed by whist at the club until dinner. A very regular life, and a pleasant one. On one occasion, when I had to wait several days for the next steamer, I went up the river in a steam launch and stayed a couple of days with C, Murray, at that time Superintendent of Police at Rungamuttee in the Chittagong Hill Tract. Mr. C. Gairdner, head of one of the business houses, accompanied me. The morning after our arrival we went out on elephants to a snipe jheel, and shot for a couple of hours, Gairdner, who was a fine shot, getting most of the bag. It was in August and hot. I recollect how I enjoyed being drenched with cold water from earthenware chatties when we got back to the peelkhana where the elephants were kept.

The tea-planters of the district used to come in to the club, and were, like all tea-planters, very good fellows. I stayed with several of them at different times and very much appreciated their kindly hospitality. My visit to Mr. Higgins has perhaps impressed itself on my memory more than any other. His garden was some little distance up the Kornafuli and I had to charter a boat to get there. I took my ship boy with me—although a ‘ boy,’ he was about sixty years old, and had been Mr. Smyth’s servant on the river for many years.

Mr. Higgins was a great shikarry and had I don’t know how many tigers to his credit. He organised a shoot for my benefit, and with the garden coolies beat a piece of jungle, which was expected to contain some game. Standing together in the open, Higgins suddenly whispered, ” Look out! I think they’ve put a tiger up.” I looked out at once, but could not see any tree to climb, and felt quite unable to share his evident pleasure at the prospect of meeting the King of the Jungle on foot—or his disappointment when a pig came out, which he bowled over. 180 ON THE HOOGHLY On leaving I was presented with a leg of pork wrapped up in some sacking. The coolies carried my things to the boat, and when the boatmen, who were Hindus, asked my old boy what was in the parcel, he replied, ” Having” which means ‘ deer.’ The boatmen took his word for it and carried the bundle to the boat. The old fellow chuckled as he said in an undertone, ” Ha. Kala Having ! ” He was very pleased with himself and kept chuckling at intervals at the thought of having duped the boatmen who would not have touched a pig at any price. We had the pig cooked on the steamer on our way across the bay and I did not think very much of it.

It was during my year on the Chittagong run that I witnessed the loss of the British India Company’s steamer Makratta on the James and Mary shoal. This shoal derived its name from the Royal James and Mary, a ship which was lost there on September 24th, 1694. The accounb of the tragedy was conveyed to the Court of Directors in a letter from Chuttanuttee dated December 19th, 1694 :

” The Royal James and Mary arrived from Sumatra in August, 1694, and coming up the Hooghly she fell on a bank on this side Tumbolie Point, and was unfortunately lost, being immediately overset, and broke her back with the loss of four or five men’s lives.”

Tradition averred that this dangerous shoal and quicksand had been formed at a time when the river Damooda broke its banks, and instead of flowing into the Hooghly at Ooloobaria, as it had done from time immemorial, cut a fresh channel for itself across-country and came into the Hooghly again abreast of Fultah Point, some fifteen miles lower down, in close proximity to the mouth of the Roopnarain river. The silt brought down by the Damooda, and the cross-current created by its outfall caused the shoal to form. A glance at the accompanying sketch will show the positions of the eastern and western Guts of the James and Mary. The former, scoured out by the ebb tide, had always SAND

™«qraph Sna,o„

-BACK OF

•••HOWSHHY.

HOOGHLY SAND

SKETCH OF JAMES C. MARY CROSSIN& from charts of June iqas *he atTDnA show direction of flood tide

8/S^ r 162

ON THE HOOGHLY

a deeper navigable channel than the latter, which frequently shoaled up until there were only two or three feet of water there at low water.

Hauling into the eastern Gut when bound up on a strong flood tide entailed a certain amount of risk. There was the chance of being set on to the Muckraputti Lumps, which meant disaster, or of taking a violent sheer when passing from the strong flood into the slack tide under Hooghly Point, which might result in the vessel grounding on the Point.

A sailing vessel coming up through the eastern Gut on a flood tide under sail, with a south-west wind, would always have her head yards braced sharp up on the port tack, so that they would be flat aback if she took a run for the Point. And the same at Fultah Point a little higher up, where one also passed from a strong tide into a slack. Deep-laden vessels generally waited until the flood tide had eased before attempting to haul into the eastern Gut. The flood tide, however, set fair through the western Gut, which was quite a safe bit of navigation, provided there was sufficient rise of tide to float the vessel over the bar.

The Muckraputti Lumps are quicksand and swallow anything which comes to rest on them. Many vessels lie there, piled one on top of the other. Steam has robbed the James and Mary of much of its danger, but danger there will always be until perhaps at some future date the Damooda may again burst through its banks and flow into the Roopnarain, when conditions may possibly be altered for the better.

Commander William Lindquist, of the Hon. East India Company’s Bengal Marine, Marshall, Vice Admiralty Court, Malta, has left an autobiography, in which he says : ” I n the month of June, 1822, I was put on board the barque Swallow, drawing sixteen feet of water, to take her from Balasore Roads to Calcutta. The wind was fresh and fair and I had a fine run to Diamond Harbour, where I anchored for the night. The next day, at half-flood, weighed, and THE SWALLOW

168

having rounded the Hooghly sand, bore away to cross the James and Mary shoal, a dangerous part of the river, which had proved the grave of many fine ships, since Admiral Watson took his squadron up the Hooghly in 1757. I was on the poop trimming sails, spy-glass in hand, about, or a little more, proud and elated than Palinurus when conducting the Argo into Colchis. The breeze had fallen light, but the tide was strong, and to avoid being carried up the Roopnarain (another branch of the river) I bore away too soon and struck on the bank called Muckraputty lump, which formed the other side of the channel, and thus by giving Charybdis too wide a berth encountered Scylla. The ship struck forward, hung a few minutes, turned right round, shot off into deep water and went down head foremost, colours flying, royals standing, and all in less time than I take to write this account of it.

” There happened to be on board as passengers a Mr. Sheridan, Quartermaster of His Majesty’s 13th Regt., his wife and six female children, and how we managed to save them has ever seemed to me a mystery. However, we did manage to get one of the quarter boats down, and the whole family with a couple of sailors into it, but they were not more than fifty yards from the ship when she sank.

” All the rest of us went down with the ship. Three men, good swimmers, struck out for the shore, but when we mustered on the bank they were missing, and must have been devoured by sharks or alligators.

” The ship went down as I have stated, and then surged up to the surface, starboard side uppermost and keel out of water. I found myself overboard in an eddy, whirling into the poop cabin windows, when I seized hold of the footropes of the spanker boom. The Captain of the ship, in the same eddy, caught hold of my legs, and trying to extricate myself from his grasp I gave him a kick in the mouth and knocked his front teeth out; but he held on notwithstanding, and so did I to the footrope, by means of which we both clambered on the wreck. A row-boat came and took 1«4

ON THE HOOGHLY

us off the wreck, landed us on the bank, and then on to Calcutta.”

Commander Lindquist tells us that he was born on Christmas Day, 1800, so he was twenty-two years old when the Swallow was lost. He mentions that when he joined the Pilot Service there were twelve brigs and a hundred and fifty officers of various grades. On joining the Service he was attached to the brig Cecilia. Two of his sons and two of his grandsons became pilots on the Hooghly.

To revert to the Mahratta. This steamer belonged to the B.I.S.N. Company and was running between Calcutta and Chandbally, a small port situated in Balasore Bay, carrying Indian passengers. There were two or three steamers on that run at the time, the best-known being the Sir John Lawrence. They were not piloted by members of the Bengal Pilot Service. Their commanders passed an examination on the river, and were permitted to pilot their vessels. To proceed to Chandbally they did not use the Eastern Channel but took a route of their own through the Western Channel. The Mahratta was piloted by Mr. Allen, who had been in charge of one of the tugs. There was a brisk passenger trade between Calcutta and Chandbally, and the steamers always looked pretty crowded.

I was bound up in the S.S. Euphrates, Captain Brown, on June 23rd, 1887. It was, I think, the day after the moon, perigee springs, and the flood tides were very strong. On leaving Saugor I sighted the Chandbally boat going up ahead of me and made out that she was the Mahratta. I had timed my departure from Saugor so as to arrive at the James and Mary with sufficient rise to admit of my using the western Gut. As we passed Diamond Harbour the Mahratta was about two miles ahead. With my glass I picked up the semaphore at Hooghly Point and, from the water which was showing, estimated that by the time I arrived at the western Gut there would be about two feet more than my draught. I was watching the steamer ahead LOSS OF MAHRATTA

165

of me, and as I approached Luff Point noticed that she was going to use the eastern Gut.

Almost immediately I saw her take the ground on the Muckraputti Lumps and capsize, her funnel touching the water. We went to stations, rang the engines to stand by, and stood by the anchor, and I told the captain that I would turn round below the Mahratta, and take up a position from which our boats could reach her. We turned from Hooghly Bight and headed for the Waterloo Wreck buoy which was nearly under water. So strong was the rush of tide that, steaming full-speed ahead, we barely held our own. We dropped the anchor and gave her fifteen fathoms of chain, keeping the engines going half-speed ahead.

From the position wc had taken up the tide set fair to the wreck, and we sent all our boats away, with orders to take all the people off the wreck, land them at Hooghly Point, and then, when they saw us turn to proceed up, they were to pull towards the middle of the river and we would pick them up while going through the western Gut. We had on board as passengers the crew of a sailing vessel who had been paid off at Chittagong and were going to Calcutta. They asked if they might help, and manned one of our boats, all of which fetched the wreck without difficulty; but I was unable to watch their proceedings, my attention being required by the steamer, which kept sheering about in the strong tide and eddies and I had to use the engines and helm to keep her in position.

Three other inward-bound steamers came up and turned round to render assistance, but on finding that our boats had rescued all the people turned again and went on their way through the western Gut. Among them was the S.S. Arcot, another B.I.S.N. Company steamer, who lowered one of her boats and sent it away to the Mahratta, and when later on we picked up our boats as arranged we also picked up the Arcofs boat and hoisted it up under one of ours. The chief officer of the Mahratta wa& H. S. Brown, who was 166

ON THE HOOGHLY

on the Worcester with me. He was always known afterwards as Muckraputti Brown. He commanded several of the B.I.S.N. Company’s steamers and became Port Officer at Madras, where I met him when homeward-bound on retiring in 1913.

The Arcot, which had turned to render assistance and had left one of her boats behind, was lost at the same place a few months after, as she was hauling into the eastern Gut. Her steering gear went wrong and she piled up on top of the wreck of the Mahratta. In her case there was no loss of life, but a number of the people on the Mahratta were drowned. We took off about a hundred and twenty of them.

Amongst other vessels lost on the James and Mary were the S.S. City of Canterbury on January 17th, 1897, and the Overdale on July 3rd, 1897.

While on the Chittagong run I was frequently commissioned by my friends there to bring them things from Calcutta. The ladies would want articles of milliner}’, and the men would ask me to procure something or other which was not to be bought in Chittagong, where shops were not too well stocked. On one trip I became very unpopular on the steamer because of a rather strong gorgonzola cheese which I was conveying to a friend who had a craving for that particular delicacy. The weather was hot, and the gorgonzola in addition to the ordinary smells of the steamer was rather too much for some of the seasick passengers, of whom we generally had a few ; for it was a rough passage across the head of the Bay in the south-west monsoon, and the vessels were small and lively.

The cheese was carried on deck and slung to the awning boom. Once when we were carrying a large crowd of Indian passengers in the ‘tweendecks we encountered unusually heavy weather on the journey to Chittagong. We shipped quite a lot of water and the hatches had to be battened down. I felt sorry for the people cooped up in the hot and stuffy ‘tweendecks. It was bad luck that we MR. MAC’S TURKEYS

167

were also carrying several jars of eggs in the same part of the ship, and that the lashings carrying away, the jars got smashed and the eggs mixed up with the passengers. When the hatches were opened on arrival at the mouth of the Kornafuli, the ‘tweendecks contained an omelette of the most horrible description.

There was brisk competition at that time between the B.I. Company’s steamers and those of the Asiatic S.N. Company. They each offered inducements to the Indian passengers to ship with them, gradually lowering their passenger rates one against the other. They kept on reducing their rates, until at last the Asiatic offered to take passengers from Chittagong to Calcutta for nothing. The B.I. capped this by not only taking them for nothing but by giving each passenger a bonus, in the shape of a chicken, which was handed to him as he boarded the steamer. The story ran that the Asiatic Company’s agent telegraphed to the head office at Calcutta, ” B.I. giving fowl; shall I offer turkey ? ” But this was refused as being too expensive.

Turkeys did well at Chittagong and I was asked by one of the Senior Pilots to get a couple for him at Christmas. The Port Officer’s wife very kindly promised to get two for me, and to send them on board the steamer before it sailed. I was staying with the Superintendent of Police that trip, and after dinner joined the steamer, which was leaving the next morning. They told me that a coop with two turkeys had come on board for me. In the morning I had a look at them and saw that they were two nice birds, but not so nice as another pair which had been brought on board by one of the passengers, a Mr. Mac something. His were very fine birds indeed, and I remarked to the captain what beauties they were and much bigger than mine. The captain did not like Mr. Mac, and said :

” You tip the topas and ask him to feed your birds well. I should not be surprised if they put on a lot of weight between this and Calcutta.”

He also remarked that Mr. Mac being very stingy, would 168

ON THE HOOGHLY

probably not tip the topas properly, and that his birds in consequence would suffer from neglect. I did as he suggested, and told the topas, who looked after the livestock, that he would get a rupee if he took good care of my turkeys.

On arrival at Calcutta I was surprised to see how the birds which were in the coop labelled with my name had improved, while the pair at which Mr. Mac was looking gloomily had certainly gone off. He seemed to be a rather cross-grained and suspicious sort of person, and grumbled at the topas for not feeding them up better. He even suggested that the birds had been changed, at which the topas was very indignant, as was also the captain, to whom he confided his suspicions.

But there was no blessing on those birds. The friend for whom I had executed the commission was very pleased with them and told me that his man was extremely clever at fattening turkeys by pushing balls of meal down their throats. He must have overdone it on this occasion. Two days before the anniversary on which they were to grace the board the faithful fellow, with tears in his eyes, broke the sad news to his master that they had both died.

That night there was feasting and joy in the servants’ quarters. It was not known whether they were feasting on turkey or holding revels on the proceeds of their sale.

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