1841-1842. GAZETTED TO THE
BUFFS. ARRIVE IN INDIA
War—Chatham—Fort Pitt—Supernumeraries—How appointed— Gazetted— Breaking
in—Orders of readiness—Ship inspected—Embark—First days on board—Typical
characters—Warmth—Our "tub"—Reduced allowances—Conditions on
board—Amusements for men—For officers—"Speaking" ships— A dismasted
vessel—First sense of responsibility—Indiscipline—Neptune —On
board—Table Bay—Shore boats—Cape Town—Vicinity—Official duties— The ship
Lloyds—An "old friend "—The 25th Regiment—The contractor— Botanic
Garden—Eastward—Mutinous crew--Land ahoy—Terrible news—The Hooghly.
IN 1841 British and
Indian troops occupied Cabul; but throughout Affghanistan the aspect of
things political was alarming. In Scinde the Ameers were defiant and
hostile. The Punjab in a state of disturbance and convulsion; law and
order had ceased; isolated murders and massacres instigated by opposing
claimants to the throne left vacant in 1839, and since that time
occupied by a prince against whom the insurrectionary movement was now
directed by chiefs, some of whom were inimical to British interests.
on a large scale were dispatched from England. Great, accordingly, the
activity at Chatham, then the only depot whence recruits and young
officers were sent to regiments serving in India. The depot then at
Warley was for soldiers of the Honourable Company's service.
Into the General Hospital
at Fort Pitt were received military invalids from India as from all
other foreign stations. There they were treated for their several
ailments; thence discharged to join their respective depots, or from the
service on such pensions as they were deemed entitled to by length of
service and regimental character. Then the period of engagement was for
life, otherwise twenty-one years in the infantry, twenty-four in the
There young medical men
nominated for appointment to the army underwent a course of training,
more or less long, according to individual circumstances, for the
special duties before them; meanwhile they received no pay, wore no
uniform; they dined at mess, paid mess subscriptions, and were subject
to martial law.
Professional education included requirements for diplomas, and in
addition, special subjects relating to military medicine, surgery, and
management of troops. Nominations for appointments were given by old
officers or other men whose social position was a guarantee in regard to
character and fitness of their nominees for the position sought by them;
certificates by professors and teachers under whom they studied were
submitted to the responsible authority [Sir James McGrigor, Bart.,
Director-General.] at the War Office, with whom rested their selection.
Thus in effect a combined system of patronage and competition was in
interest a small group of expectants awaited the arrival of the coach by
which in those days afternoon letters and evening papers from the
metropolis were conveyed. Eagerly was The Gazette scanned when, close
upon the hour of midnight, the papers were delivered. Great was the
pride and rejoicing with which some of our number read the announcement
relating to them; great the disappointment of those who were not so
included. The regiment to which I had the honour of being appointed was
the 3rd, or "Buffs," the depot of which formed part of the Provisional
Battalion then occupying Forton Barracks. [The date of appointment as
Assistant Surgeon, June 8, 1841. My diplomas L.R.CS.E.; M.D. St.
Andrews: both April, 1840.]
The duties assigned to young medical
officers were unimportant— initiatory rather than definite in kind.
Careful watch and superintendence on the part of official seniors gave
us an opportunity of learning various points relative to practice, as
well as to routine and discipline, to be turned to account—or
otherwise—in the career upon which we were entering. But the process of
"breaking in" was not without its disagreeables. Courtesy towards young
officers on the part of their seniors, military or medical, was a
quality rare at Chatham, but where met with in isolated instances was
the more appreciated, and remembered in subsequent years. The "system"
of training in force tended rather to break than bend the sapling.
Thus did three months pass away. Then came
an order of readiness to embark with the detachment of recruits next to
sail. Although about to proceed with those pertaining to what was now
"my own regiment," official regulations required that my appointment to
charge of them should have the authority of "The Honourable Court of
Directors," and that to obtain it, personal application must be made at
their old historical house in Leadenhall Street—a formality which was
gone through with ease and success. This is what the appointment in
question implied:—Not only did I receive the free passage to which I was
entitled, my daily rate of pay [7s 6d] running on the while, minus £s
deducted "for messing," but was privileged to occupy the second best
cabin on board, and at the end of the voyage to receive in rupees a sum
equivalent to fifteen shillings per head for officers and soldiers
landed, and half a guinea for each woman and child. In those "golden
(lays" the sterling value of the rupee was at par.
The ordeal of "inspection" was duly
performed, the requirements on board declared "satisfactory," the formal
report to that effect transmitted to the authorities. My personal
knowledge of those requirements was absolutely nil. How much more
definite that of other members of the Inspecting Committee, was soon to
be judged of. For example: side or stern ports there were none, deck
ventilators being considered sufficient. Food stores comprised casks of
salted beef and pork; tins of soup and bouill, potatoes and other
vegetables, some dried, some tinned; pickles and lime juice, bread,
otherwise hard biscuit, destined ere many weeks had elapsed to become
mouldy and honeycombed by weevils. There were bags of flour, peas, and
raisins; an ample supply of tobacco; also of rum and porter, to be
issued to the troops as a daily ration. The water tanks and a series of
casks on deck had been filled—so it was said—from the Thames below
London Bridge, when the tide was at its lowest.
The day of departure arrived. The detachment
of which I was an unit marched away from Chatham Barracks, through
Rochester, Stroud, and so by road to Gravesend. There it was conveyed on
board the Indian; twenty-four hours allowed us to settle down on board;
the ship then taken in tow by steamer; we are on our voyage.
A fortnight elapsed; we were no farther on
our way than off the coast of Spain. The novelties of first experience
afforded subject of observation and thought : those which most impressed
us, the clear moonlight, the starry galaxy of the heavens, the Milky
Way, the cloudless sky, the phosphorescence of the undulating sea
through which our ship slowly glided; the masses of living things,
chiefly medusae, that floated fathoms deep in ocean. During daylight
many land birds flew over us or rested on the rigging.
Small though our party was, it comprised its
proportion of men typical in their several ways. The commander of the
vessel, soured with life, disappointed in career, tired of sea life, but
unable to quit his profession. One of the ship's officers, a young man
of deeply religious convictions. An ancient subaltern, inured to the
chagrin of having been several times purchased over by men of less
service but more fortunate than himself in worldly means. The lady's
man, pretentious and vapid, given to solos on a guitar; the instrument
adorned with many coloured ribbons, to each of which he attached a
legend; his cabin decorated with little bits of "work," cards, and
trinkets, for as yet photographs had not been invented. The irascible
person, ready to take offence at trifles, and in other ways uncertain.
A month on board; the Canary Islands faintly
seen in the distance. Already heat and stuffiness 'tween decks so
unpleasant that carpenters were set to work to cut out stern ports for
ventilation. Our progress so slow that with all sails set a ship's boat
was launched, in which some of our numbers amused themselves by rowing
round the vessel.
Two months, and we still north of the Equator. Various reasons given for
tedious progress, among others light airs, contrary winds, adverse
currents. But none of these explained the fact of our being passed by
vessels, some of which, on the horizon astern of us in the morning, were
hull down on that ahead ere daylight vanished. That our ship was alluded
to as "a worthless old tub" need now be no matter of surprise.
Not more than one-third of our distance to
be run as yet got over prospects as regarded the remainder by no means
happy. The unwelcome announcement made that all hands, including crew
and troops, must submit to reduced allowance of food and water. Of the
latter, the full allowance per head per day for cooking and all other
purposes was seven pints, now to be reduced to six. No wonder that the
announcement was not received with tokens of approval.
Looking back to conditions as described in
notes taken at the time, the contrast so presented between those which
were then deemed sufficient for troops on board ship, and those which
now exist may not be without some historical interest. Space 'tween
decks so limited, [The hammock space per man was 9 feet x 1½] that with
men's hammocks slung, those who on duty had to make their way along at
night were forced to stoop almost to the attitude of the ordinary
quadruped. The "sick bay" on the port side, close to the main hatch,
directly exposed to rain from starboard; except a canvas screen, no
separation between the quarters of unmarried and those of married; no
separate accommodation for sick women or children; no prison set apart
for the refractory. All over the ship myriads of cockroaches; these
insects, especially lively at night, supplied to men and officers
excitement and exercise, as, slipper in hand, they hunted them whenever
the pale light given by the ship's lamps enabled them to do so.
Cleanliness of decks and fittings was to some extent effected by means
of dry scrubbing. The use of Burnett's Solution ' substituted the odour
of the compound so named for that of humanity. By means of iron
fumigators in which was burning tar, the atmosphere of 'tween decks was
purified, due precautions taken to minimise the risks of fire attending
the process. Tubs and hose on deck supplied ample means for the morning
carefully chosen library provided for the use of our men was placed on
board by the Indian authorities; it was highly appreciated and generally
made use of. Among the troops, games of all sorts were encouraged, their
selection left to men's own choice. In working the ship ready hands were
at all times available. Gymnastics and feats of strength were in high
favour, and so, with the routine of guards, parades, inspections, and so
forth, daytime was filled up. In the evenings, songs, recitations,
theatrical performances, and instrumental music were indulged till the
bugle sounded "lights out."
Officers had their ways of passing the time.
They included games, gymnastics, bets, practical jokes (of all degrees
of silliness), cock fighting, wild and dangerous adventures in the
rigging, and on Saturday evenings, toasts, then usual on such occasions,
enthusiastically "honoured." A weekly newspaper was set on foot; the
works of Scott, Shakespeare, and Pope, among other authors, carefully
studied, and discussions, more or less profitable, held on their
signalling, and hailing ships was a favourite amusement as opportunity
occurred. By some of those homeward bound we dispatched letters, with
passengers on board others we exchanged visits, strange as such
ceremonies may seem to those now acquainted only with modern twenty-knot
floating steam palaces. While paying such a visit to a ship five months
out from China, we learned the "news" that Canton had been captured (on
May 25-27, 1841) by the forces under command of Sir Hugh Gough.
In near proximity to the Equator we came
upon a ship, the Cambridge, disabled, her topmasts carried away in a
sudden squall two nights previous. The resolve to stand by and give
assistance was quickly taken. Boats were lowered, parties of sailors and
recruits, accompanied by some officers, were soon on board. Within a few
hours defects were made good as far as that was practicable; meantime
night had closed in, a somewhat fresh breeze sprung up, clouds obscured
the sky, and so the return to our ship was by no means accomplished
The distance to be got over was still great
before the ship could reach Table Bay and renewed supplies obtained. The
health of all on board had so far remained good, notwithstanding all the
drawbacks experienced. The likelihood, however, that this happy state of
things might suddenly come to an end became to me a source of what was
the first sense of official anxiety with which I had been acquainted.
Excepting two somewhat elderly non-commissioned officers, specially put
on board the better to ensure discipline among our recruits, all others
were as yet but partly tutored in military duties and order. Unwilling
obedience had from the first been shown by several of their number; then
came irregularities, quarrels, and fights among themselves. Nor were the
few married women on board ideal patterns of gentleness, either in
speech or behaviour.
Among the crew were men whose antecedents,
so far as they could be ascertained, were of the most questionable kind,
and whose conduct on board had, from the first, been suspicious. Between
them and kindred spirits among the recruits, it appeared that an
understanding had been come to to have what they called "a disturbance"
on board. Those intentions having come to the ears of the officers, with
the further information that fully ninety men were implicated,
preparations were made for emergencies: arm-racks fitted up in the
saloon; fire-arms burnished; ammunition seen to; non-commissioned
officers instructed as to their duties. But an occurrence which now
happened distracted attention from the so-called plot, whether real or
imaginary did not transpire.
Our entrance into tropical latitudes, some
three weeks previous, had been duly announced by "Neptune," who,
selecting the period of first night watch for the ceremony, welcomed us
from amidst a flare of blue lights on the forecastle, on our coming to
his dominions. Having done so, he returned to his element; his car a
burning tar-barrel, which we continued to watch as it seemed to float
astern, until all was darkness again. On board, "offerings" had to be
made to the sea-god, half-sovereigns and bottles of rum, sent to the
fo'c's'le, being those most appreciated.
While yet in the first degree of south
latitude, the sea-god, accompanied by his court officials, announced
their arrival on board, the whole personified by members of the ship's
crew, appropriately attired in accordance with their respective official
positions. The ceremony of "initiating" the "children" was quickly in
progress, the chief ceremonies connected therewith including shaving,
"bathing," besides some others by no means pleasant to their subjects.
One of our young recruits strongly resisted the ordeal through which
several of his comrades had passed. He succeeded in making his escape
from his captors, and quickly mounting the ship's railing, thence
plunged into the sea, to the consternation and horror of us all. The
vessel was instantly "put about," a boat lowered, but search for him was
in vain. The occurrence was, indeed, a melancholy outcome of what was
intended to be a scene of amusement. But the spirits of young men were
light, and ere many hours had elapsed, the song and dance were in
progress, as if the event had not occurred. A Court of Inquiry followed
in due time, and then the incident was forgotten.
We were now approaching Table Bay. Great was
the interest and admiration with which we looked upon Table Mountain, as
its grandeur became more and more distinctly revealed. Hardly less was
our estimate of the Blue Berg range, by which the distant view was
bounded. Soon we were among the shipping, and at anchor.
Our ship was soon surrounded by boats, that
seemed to come in shoals from shore; some conveying fruit and
curiosities for sale, others suspected of carrying commodities less
innocuous in kind. But sentries, already placed at gangways and other
points on deck, prevented traffic between our men and the small craft.
The aspect of boats and their crews was alike new and strange to most of
us: the former, striped with gaudy colours, red, black, and white; the
latter, representing several nationalities, including English, Dutch,
Malay, East Indian, and typical African, their several styles of costume
no less various than themselves.
Some of our number, proceeding ashore, stood
for the first time on foreign ground. Cape Town presented a series of
wide, regularly arranged streets, intersecting each other, their sides
sheltered by foliage trees. Flat-roofed houses, coated with white
plaster, were nearly invariable in their uniformity. Great wagons, drawn
by teams of oxen, from six to twelve in number—and even more—were being
driven along by Malays, armed with whips of alarming proportions;
though, fortunately for the beasts of burthen, they were little used.
Crowds of pedestrians were on the thoroughfares, interspersed with
guardians of the peace, the latter dressed alter the manner of their
kind in London. It was the month of December; but the temperature was
that of summer; the heat oppressive, as we continued our excursion.
Part of that excursion was to Constantia. On
the right, the great mountain, rising to a height of three thousand
feet; the space between its base and the road along which we drove
thickly covered by forest and undergrowth, the whole comprising oaks,
silver and other pines, geraniums, pomegranates, and heaths,
interspersed with herbaceous plants bearing gorgeously coloured flowers.
At intervals there were richly cultivated fields and valleys; on or near
them attractive-looking houses, many having attached to the latter no
less handsome gardens. The road was thickly occupied by vehicles and
pedestrians; among the whites, a considerable proportion of well-looking
individuals of the fair sex. There was, in fact, a general aspect of
activity and of prosperity.
The ordeal of "reporting ourselves" to the
authorities was gone through : our reception by one, whose surname
indicated Dutch origin, ungracious and supercilious; by the departmental
chief so kindly, as by contrast to make an impression upon us, but
partially inured to official ways as we then were. Meanwhile, the
necessary steps were in progress for placing on board our ship the
much-needed supplies of food materials and of water.
Among vessels that anchored in the bay
during our detention, there was the ship Lloyds, having on board
emigrants from England to New Zealand. When first they began their
voyage, they numbered eighty women and 117 children; but so appalling
had been the mortality among them that, of the children, fifty-seven had
died. In all parts of the space occupied by passengers, sickness and
distress in various shapes prevailed. Children, apparently near to
death, lay in cots by the side of their prostrate mothers, whose
feebleness rendered them unable to give the necessary aid to their
infants. A state of indescribable filth existed everywhere; ventilation
there was none in the proper sense. Women and children affected with
measles in very severe form, that disease having been brought on board
in the persons of some of those embarking; others suffered from low
fever, and some from scurvy, which had recently appeared among them. The
family of the medical man on board had suffered like the others, one of
his children having died. On the deck of the ship lay two coffins,
containing bodies of the dead, preparatory to being taken on shore for
burial. The entire scene presented by the ship, the saddest with which,
so far, I had become acquainted.
In Table Bay we again met the Cambridge
already mentioned, that vessel arriving shortly after our own had
anchored. In a sense we, the passengers of both, greeted each other as
old friends; visits were interchanged, then leave was taken of each
other with expressions of good wishes. By-and-by there came to anchor
the ship Nanking, having on board recruits belonging to the service of
the Honourable Company. Greetings and cheers were interchanged; for were
we not all alike proceeding on a career, hopeful indeed, but as yet
In the Castle, a short distance from Cape
Town, the 25th Regiment, or Borderers, was stationed, and in accordance
with the hospitable custom of the time, an invitation to dinner with the
officers was received on board. The party on that festive occasion
numbered seventy, the majority guests like ourselves, and now the
circumstance is mentioned as showing the scale upon which such
entertainments were given.
Invited to the house of an Afrikander
Dutchman, we found ourselves in large airy rooms, destitute of carpets,
with polished floors; wall space reduced to a series of intervals
between doors and windows; the arrangements new to us, but suited to
climatic conditions of the place. Little attentions shown by, added to
personal attractions of, lady members of the family naturally enough
left their impression on young susceptibilities.
Very interesting also, though in a different
way, was our visit to the house of Baron von Ludovigberg. Elegantly
furnished, rooms so arranged as to be readily transformed into one large
hall, everything in and around marking a life of ease and comfort. His
garden, situated in Koif Street, extensive, elegantly laid out, with
large collection of plants indigenous and foreign; at intervals
fountains and ornamental lakes. In the latter were thousands of gold
fish, so tame as to approach and feed from the hand of an attendant; to
the sound of a handbell rung by him they crowded, though on seeing us
they kept at a distance. To the sound of the same bell when rung by us
they would approach, but not come near the strangers.
Our voyage resumed, away eastward we sailed.
Sixteen days without noteworthy incident; then sighted the island of
Amsterdam, from which point, as the captain expressed it, he began to
make his northing.
Another interval of monotonous sea life. At daybreak we found that in
close proximity to us was a barque, the Vanguard, on board of which
there was disturbance amounting to mutiny among the crew. The captain
signalled for assistance. A party of our young soldiers, under command
of an officer, proceeded on board, removed the recalcitrant men to our
ship, some of our sailors taking their place, and so both vessels
continued their way to Calcutta.
Again was the unwelcome announcement made
that short allowance of food and water was imminent, to be averted by
progress of our vessel becoming more rapid than it 'had hitherto been.
The tedium of the voyage had told upon us; idleness had produced its
usual effect. Chafing against authority and slow decay of active good
fellowship became too apparent; all were tired of each other.
Another interval. From the mast-head comes
the welcome sound, "Land on the starboard bow." Soon we come in view of
low-lying shore, over which hangs a haze in which outlines of objects
are indistinct. What is seen, however, indicates that our ship is out of
reckoning; that, as for some time past suspected, something has gone
wrong with the chronometers. Wisely, the captain determines to proceed
no farther for the present, until able to determine our precise
position. A day and night pass, then is descried a ship in the distance
westward. We proceed in that direction, and ere many hours are over
exchange signals with a pilot brig.
Twenty-four weeks had elapsed since the
pilot left us in the Downs; now the corresponding functionary boards our
ship off the Sand- heads. We are eager for news. He has much to tell,
but of a nature sad as unexpected. The envoy at Cabul, Sir William
Macnaughten, murdered by the hand of Akbar Khan; the 44th Regiment
annihilated, part of a force comprising 4,500 fighting men and 12,000
camp- followers who had started on their disastrous retreat from Cabul
towards the Khyber Pass; one only survivor, Dr. Bryden, who carried
tidings of the disaster to Jellalabad. Another item was that several
officers, ladies, and children were in the hands of the Affghan chief.
Progress against the current of Hooghly
River was slow, steam employed only while crossing the dreaded "James
and Mary" shoal; for then tugs were scarce, their use expensive. Three
days so passed; the first experience of tropical scenery pleasant to the
eye, furnishing at the same time ample subject for remark and talk. On
either side jungle, cultivated plots of ground, palms, bamboos,
buffaloes and cattle of other kinds. In slimy ooze gigantic gavials; in
the river dead bodies of animals and human beings, vultures and crows
perched upon and tearing their decomposing flesh. Native boats come
alongside; their swarthy, semi-naked crews scream and gesticulate wildly
as they offer for sale fruit and other commodities. Our rigging is
crowded with brahminee kites and other birds; gulls and terns swarm
around. The prevailing damp heat is oppressive. Now the beautiful suburb
of Garden Reach is on our right; on our left the Botanic Garden; the
City of Palaces is ahead of us; we are at anchor off Princep's Ghat.
The "details," as in official language our
troops collectively are called, were transferred to country boats of
uncouth look, and so conveyed to Chinsurah, then a depot for newly
arrived recruits. Our actual numbers so transferred equalled those
originally embarked, two lives lost during our voyage being made up for
by two births on board. Sanitation, in modern significance of the term,
had as substitute the arrangements—or want of them—already mentioned;
yet no special illness occurred; my first charge ended satisfactorily.