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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

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Up the Irawaddy Part V


Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

September 14th. — External air 103 degs., shade 85 degs. by the glass. The process of serving out the morning ration of "bark," as a preventative against intermittent fever, affords an excellent opportunity to the "wits" in the boats to launch their jests at one another, as each by name is mustered to take his dose; the rum part of the ration by all being said to be most rational; they think "one good thing spoils the other," and would, to a man, prefer the alcohol by itself alone. No more formidable enemy, however, as yet, has attacked us than our old friends the mosquitoes, which, though of a smaller breed than those in the "Panalan creek," made up the deficiency in the vigour of their attacks, and prevented us all night enjoying the favours of much-courted "Somnus."

September 15th. — We turned out early this morning, and gazed at one another with a feeling much akin to wonder at seeing our mutual safety, and being able tolerably to recognise each other's features, which afterwards became impossible in many cases, so blurred and blotched, and openly ulcerated were several, both in limb and face, that even their "long-billed tailors" would have scarcely sworn to their identity, if in their debt, unless by coats alone. We got under; way with the "grey" of the morning, and sailing on for a mile or so in a narrow creek, made the main river again, when we fell in with one of our consort boats, she having "come to" during the night, at the opposite side of an island, which we, in ignorance of the river's course, unsurveyed, and new to all of us, poking our way without an interpreter of any kind, had simply circumnavigated. Previous to our dropping on her, we had landed at a small village, where the work of desolation had been completed about a month previously. Our inducement to land here was a suspicious-looking boat lying alongside the bank, which we rightly supposed belonged to the Dandas or Dacoits; but we found ourselves too late, as these gentry had stripped the villagers, our allies, of every moveable, even the clothes of their scanty wardrobe, and burned the houses. However, we succeeded in securing a few stray fowls, and a savage looking wild water buffalo (which, by the way, had to be knocked over by a musket ball), for the boats' crews; for which the Head-man of the village received an "Indent" on the Indian Government for payment. The herds of wide-horned buffalo are here quite wild and unmanageable,"feroces natura"* and on being driven up out of the muddy river, to be honoured, by one being selected from amongst them, for that morning breakfast, be it said, and our dinner subsequently, the chosen one appreciated not the honour; but charging with down-pressed head, and butting into the midst of us, upset in a trice a tiny midshipman, who, naturally, most terrified by the fierce brute's sudden angry foray, was flung right over its body without annihilating him, as all (himself included), thought must be the case, or even bruising him severely.

September 16th, 17th.Thermometer in external air 102 degs.shade 86 degs. Having breakfasted and dined off this beef yesterday which, though very tough, furnished a welcome change for the crews from the continued salt meat, we find a small portion remaining this morning to be quite tainted, and unfit for use! The bullock that was nigh routing our assembled forces yesterday morning is this morning unfit for human food! We consequently are breakfastless, contrary to fond anticipation. So much for the decomposing effects of a few hours of this weather, which has been most close and rainy. At the next village "Sooloon" I went with a companion, to inspect a handsome little Pagoda, with an alabaster joss in the doorway, and, as usual, gilt tinkling bells surmounting the summit of the minaret. This was evidently a modern one, of a white composite material, smaller and plainer than any I saw before. The masons' marks of workmanship were still fresh seen upon it— the votive offering, I suppose, of some entroubled family of modern times to one of their protecting deities — standing in a large, rich paddy plain, park-like, dotted here and there with noble oaks and chesnuts, and leaning palms, and graceful cocoas, studding the river's banks in the distance. Here it began to rain tremendously, and, on looking to our boats, we found it impossible to stem the current, when, finding an open pasture, clear of bush along the river's edge, we jumped ashore, and tackled on the tracking line — canal-boat fashion. Thus tramped along, in cadence, our hardy blue jackets, keeping time, the while, to the burthen of their merry song, when, rounding a point, we came suddenly upon another village, and a number of native boats moored off the bank. In slacking off the towing-line, to pass outside them, it got foul of one of their outriggers projecting from a Chinese "Sanpan," and an active seaman jumped down from off the bank upon the Bamboo cabin's roof to cast it free; when, lo! a most unearthly howl uprose, rending the outward air, and "Jack" was to be seen sinking, leg foremost, right through the flimsy wicker root, plump on a little round tea-table in the boat's cabin, where a Chinaman and Mrs. Chinaman, with all the junior branches of this Celestial family, were very harmoniously seated at their "Bohea," most unsuspectingly, as if in Central China, whence they had travelled during the last few weeks on their journey to Bengal; a frequent route, and with these nomade people (that is, such of them as are at all nomade) much in vogue, travelling westward up the Chinese rivers, and building fresh "Sanpans" on the sources of the Irrawaddi, which thus transport most swiftly themselves and "household gods" straight from Inmost China to the free waters of the Bengal Bay via Rangoon. However, the tiny China pot and thimble cups (not, mark you, quart measures like our tea-cups), and saucer of rice with fowl and fishy curry (as one meets it in China) were forthwith ground most accidentally to powder by ponderous Jack's descent, "Jack boots," and all. At this mishap— enough, forsooth, to savage any people— the China party (a lesson to our Western constitutional irritability) after the due explosion of a few impetuous "Hi yawes!" "How can?" "What for you do dat ting?" "Dat no plopau pigeon," laughed at the contretemps themselves most heartily of the lot, showing the true philosophy of these followers of "Confucius," When they came to find it was no design nor wicked frowardness, thus abruptlj and most unceremoniously, as a "dropper-in," to intrude unasked upon their tete-a-tete, with rocket-like, most damaging celerity. This Mr. Chinaman forthwith attached himself, as acting or occasional interpreter, in tolerable Hong-Kong English, hence-forward to our varying fortunes, as long as we stopped at this station. Bowel complaints increasing! River water for drinking, very thick and bad, despite of filtering, or alum. Here clouds of very large locusts, in fitful clusters, fill the air, the mouth, the nostrils, even the bowl of tea or cocoa as it goes up to your lips, converting the contents into a thick soup of locusts, or call them prawns for nicety. At first, in one of these conjunctures, you shut your mouth, your eyes, your ears, your nostrils; you take a spoon and fish the drowning, scalding hoppers out, each not at all unlike a large shrimp. You fish one out at one side of the bowl, and six come hopping in at t'other, repeated trebly, nay, a dozen times with like result, a tyro, you throw away the mess in deep disgust, and go without it. Next time, taught wisdom by a hungry stomach, you shut your eyes and gulp away most heartily and unscrupulously, unless, as I have seen, a centipede, attracted by the steaming savour, drops in, to sip your cup, then be advised and leave it to him, it's not with every stomach he'll agree! We are now, pro tem., at Hausedah. It is a large, straggling village, having one long principal street on the river's bank and two or three in rear, with several large pagodas, with their attendant prominent poonge-houses, also a large palace in a compound, belonging to the Rajah, an ally of ours, who came forthwith on board to tender the homage of his friendship and esteem. I may here observe, en passant, as a specimen oi the intricate navigation of this passage, that for half last Thursday we passed through a devious and an unknown creek, so narrow that our oar-blades touched the tall dense hedge of bamboos on either side, straight and even like a wall, impenetrably fringing in the water's edge; save it, nought but the muddy sky and muddier water met the view; yet, strange to say, so deep was it, that even under the very bamboos we found not bottom, poling our oars! At length we all breathed more freely when we gained and recognised the open river, all being total strangers to this navigation. Just as one feels with a load relieved from chest and brain, when first, after days of pent-up travel, he emerges from the dubious, half blazed Indian track tnrough an American primeval forest to the lightof sun-lit day and the familiar objects of the settler's clearing— most welcome sight to him I The water seems to be the highway; in fact, no other thoroughfare, as in many parts of China, is known here. No roads, no paths, except along the river's banks, or edges of the "paddy fields," as also holds in the Celestial Empire. No beasts of burthen, if we except the elephants, which are to be seen along the river, pushing and hauling logs and other suchlike things, almost immovable otherwise, at least so far as any other mode of draught is concerned. Mighty masses fixed are to them trifles light as air. Many of these docile monsters, obedient to the "Mahout's'' stake and order, you see at work upon the beach near Rangoon, and at other places that, if they knew their strength, bungalows, natives, bamboo huts. et cetera, nay, most things in this fragile country, would crumble underneath their crush.

* Lt: ferocious nature

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