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A blog of Nineteenth Century history, focusing, but not exclusively, on the American Civil War seen through the prism of personal accounts, newspaper stories, administrative records and global history.
A thousand tales. A miscellany. A maze of historical tangents.

A Capitol View

A Capitol View
Images of 1861 juxtaposed- Union Square, New York vs. Capitol Square, Richmond

Monday, February 3, 2014

Up the Irawaddy Part IV



AN OFFICER'S DIARY OF A TWO MONTHS BOAT
EXPEDITION IN BURMAH.

Part I
Part II
Part III



September 11 — Anchored for an hour in slack water, for breakfast; under way again till 12. Had dinner cooked; ship's fare, with plantains, and a glass of brandy or rum and water, with a pipe, or cheroot to follow, became the order of the day. Rest from the greatest ardour of the sun for a couple of hours, and then under way again, to anchor awhile at five for tea and pipes, and then away again; "hands up anchor" for the rest of the night till early morning, in these sleep-forsaken regions, where even the "fat-boy" of"Picwick" would find his aptitude for slumber of no avail. Night falls quickly here, with as little twilight as at some seasons one finds in North America, when night immediately succeeds the disappearance of the sun; however, every bough and spray along the river banks, on either side, are tufts of glittering coruscations with the fireflies.
September 12th, — The fleet of native canoes are still hanging on close in our wake, anchoring when we anchor, and getting under way, by day or night, with us, never a stone's throw from us, most anxious looking, and watching every turn of the stream, as if each moment they expected some denouement. The banks abound in plantains, to which we help ourselves from out of the boats as we pass on, as well as large white grub, which, in abundance, the natives brought off to us, the delicacy evidently of the season, but un-native-like would take no pay, lest for dealing with us they should be ransacked and maltreated by the King of Ava's people. This day passed much like yesterday for the remainder. On Sunday morning we had a most delightful sail, as beautiful as could be through the most luxuriantly clad country; the river banks variegated with curious trees, and flowering parasitic shrubs of every shape and size, and hue, and now and then an open paddy plain of surpassing verdure, with a comfortable looking Bamboo bungalow or two, dotted here and there in the recesses of the chameleon-hued foliage, the very beau ideal as snug contentment; but, alas! we soon found out that the hand of the despoiler had been most ruthlessly at work, in just such another place, a little higher up the river, the "Red right hand" of devastating war. We are now put of the "Panalan" Creek, which is as yet intact. Fish of the largest size seem to be here abundant, somewhat in shape like the cat-fish of the Mississippi, jumping on all sides of the stream. This being Sunday, we had the Flotilla anchored in the forenoon, in a line abreast the principal village, and dressed ourselves in frock coats, the men in white shirts and duck trousers, Divine Service was extemporized for the first time at the head of the mousquito-filmed Panalan Creek, a name remembered, I warrant, with an uneasy buzzing sense of tingling in the ear to this day by many a brave fellow, whom more powerful enemies could not succeed in daunting; though now all out prostrated by their ceaseless tiny torments; verily in them the Burmese had efficient allies against their European invader whilst the fire-flies pointed out to us the devious way along the river at night. Here to-day, at the head of this Panalan Creek, we dipped our oars for the first time since we started in the waters of the Irrawaddi proper, which is decidedly a noble, wide, expansive river fit, as is destined at some future day, to carry on its swelling bosom the teas and silks of far "Cathay" — the trade of Imperial China (despite the exclusiveness of imperious Chinese Emperors) from China confines, through a British province to a British port, for easy shipment to Great Britain's self. In this way we shall want no costly little wars with China ; no treaty signed with Chinamen, signed only to be broken, the moment our men of war are hull down on the horizon from out of the sight of subtle, lying Chinamen; no deadly occupation of more filthy Chinese ports or capitals, but with the inland people, by the head waters of the Irrawaddi and Tang-tse-Kiang, to the heart of China; with the Chinese people we can then most fairly trade on terms of easy mutual reciprocity. However, to retrace our course, this river is nearly two miles here, I'd say, from side to side, embosomed in heavy, park-like timber, ash, evergreen oak, teak, and chesnut, &c., with intervening patches of laurels, sugar-cane, bamboo, and smaller shrubs. Here we got a welcome lift (the stream being very rapid, so much so that our boats even close in shore, hung sometimes for an hour in the same spot, uncertain as 'twere, whether to forge ahead or drop astern, so nicely balanced was the might of sail, and double-banked sturdy oar against the force of the contrary current), a very welcome lift indeed we had, by being towed for some miles by a passing Indian steamer going up the river with troops, and with her proceeded up the stream till the afternoon, passing on either side several very picturesque villages on our way, and a very rich and pretty, though flat country. Aboard this steamer we were enabled to stretch at full length for the first time for several days, our wearied, cramped-up limbs; and gladly exchanging the boat's stem sheets for the roomy deck, enjoyed a sound refreshing sleep between the guns, a luxury whose extent such voyageurs alone can truly value. Refreshed in brain and limb by a few hours rest, we re-embarked aboard our boats towards evening, and casting off, struck out across the rapid mid-stream for the port bank, where there came in view a fine tract as level grass grown pasture land, begemmed with Eastern flowers of many hues, and most expansive “paddy-fields," of whose smooth verdancy we cheerfully availed ourselves, to track our boats along the river banks (the crews being landed and tackled on to hawsers), where first we witnessed in our proper persons the desolated scenes of civil war. Alas! the ravages of all-destroying war were here too painfully evinced on every side. May England, maiden England, never know invasion's horrors. The beauteous villages erst-while were sacked and burnt by the marauding native bands, the crops ripe for the harvest in many instances lying wastefully neglected, — the cattle straying ownerless about through the enclosures and rich paddy-rice fields— not a living human being about. A skulking, hungry-looking cat, or dog, or a few half-starved, frightened looking cocks and hens, perched in the neighbouring trees, which latter fowls suggestive as they were of nightmare and dyspepsia to more highly organized digestions, yet, I'm bound to say, figured, ere many hours, in an impromptu appetite- appeasing curry, a culinary specimen not much belying our natal "Soyer's" skill. The neighbouring town, pagodas, Poonge houses, all were desolate, except about the latter a priest or two, more daring, or more lazy than their fellows, with shaven crown and cunning, stealthy glance askew, followed us about in sulky silence.
September 13th. — A little farther on we came on a like deserted, straggling town, a mass of ruins, too, just past a creek, in which some natives, howling with frantic gesticulations, paddling along in their canoes, endeavoured to entice us to follow off the main river up this creek, so as to join their goodly company, but in vain; and well it was so, for an ambush, as the "interpreter" afterwards told us, was probably their object. A few empty, half-burnt bamboo houses, ransacked of all contents, and a Pagoda, on a largish scale, intact from its solidity, marked out this place — the former famous, or, more properly, infamous "Donabew;" and sphinxes of colossal magnitude in stone, and with them a few josses of wood or marble, too useless or too enormous to destroy, along with a half-ruined Poonge-house, which I had nearly forgotten to mention to my readers.
This said "Donabew" was notoriously the scene of European ambushed slaughter, even in the former war. It and the country round about the depot of the Burmese troops and bands of lawless freebooters, the cruel, rascally "Dacoits" of Pegu, whose handy work we saw far off, last night, in flaming village conflagrations here and farther up the river. This day the heat is registered, I find, at 103 degs. in the external air; in shade, 85 degs. of Fahrenheit. I took to-day under treatment, as a beginning, four patients — two with intermittent fever, and two with bowel affections; one of the latter, almost a giant in stature, was chaffed by his companions for "letting a plantain," as they said, knock over such a sturdy fellow with diarrhoea. Poor fellow, his ridiculers little thought, ere many weeks passed over, this plantain-sickened, hardy giant was to fail amongst the first, a victim to "the scourge of eastern scourges" — cholera; and that his bones, with others of his "chaffing comrades," were doomed ere long to whiten on a lone island in the Irrawaddi, apart from home and kindred, their last resting places soon to be marked only by a rude bamboo cross over their grave, surrounded by bamboos, and extemporized by the very hand that tells the tale to-day. "Peace to their names."

1 comment:

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