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Our Australian Cousins
Chapter I

A Retrospect—I start from Calcutta—Our steamer and cargoDown the bay—Penang—The couree festival.

For many years I had braved the burning heats of Hindostan, and borne a by no means inactive part in "the burden and heat of the day," incident to a planter's life in our Eastern Dependency. Several years of incessant exposure in very unhealthy districts had at length told their inevitable tale; and early in 1875 I was fain to turn my steps homeward to the old parent nest, to try the restorative effects of the "caller", Scottish air among my dearly loved native Grampians.

Any one who has lived in India for over twelve years finds it difficult to settle down comfortably elsewhere. On the voyage home I was not half careful enough of myself; I did not make enough allowance for the dif­ferences of temperature between the Koosee Diarahs (plains) and the chops of the channel. The quick sudden changes and exigencies of a Scottish spring and summer proved too much for my relaxed and enervated frame, and a complication of rheumatic disorders set in, shortly after I arrived at home, which rendered a speedy return to the more congenial Indian heat an advisable step. So said the doctors.

It was hard to tear myself away from the grand old heather-clad hills—the sparkling burnies with their silvery trout, and the homely, kindly hands and hearts of kith and kin; but there was no help for it. Barely four months at home, I was compelled to bid a reluctant adieu to old Scotland, and set my face once again towards the East.

The trip home seemed to have done me little good. My rheumatic tendencies became more pronounced the nearer we approached the sultry shores of Ind. On arrival at Calcutta I had to undergo several severe surgical operations, and at length, when not nearly recovered, I accepted sole charge of some very exten­sive Government Grants of Waste Lands in Oudh and the North-west Provinces, and set out to survey the scene of my future labours, though weak, reduced, and scarcely able to crawl.

My new home was away up in the north-west corner of Oudh, about thirty-four miles from Shajehanpore, and the grant was located in the midst of wild, untilled jungle country. There were few villages, and little cultivation contiguous; and the locality bore the repu­tation of being the very haunt and chosen home of the dreaded malarious fever. How I worked and hoped and struggled, I may hereafter recount. My spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. I had to build indigo vats and start factories and cultivation. I reclaimed lands from the dense virgin forest—I dug wells, founded villages, built granaries, constructed roads and bridges, and tried my best to be a brave and useful pioneer; but the deadly climate was the victor in the end. It could not well be otherwise. I was in reality very weak and ill. All my old servants who had followed me to this far-off nook from the Tirhoot villages sickened with the insidious fever, and had to go back to their homes. I battled with my growing weakness as long as I dared. Many a day, when I could no longer walk, I was carried over the cultivation in a pallcee. Many a day have I lain in the jungle in the throes of fever and ague, while I directed the ope­rations of my coolies in the ever-widening clearing; but at last I had fairly to yield, and I was sent down by my kind and liberal employer to Bombay, on full pay, to see if a course of salt-water baths would drive the gnawing rheumatic demon from the lodgment he had effected in my joints.

All was in vain. Salicene, salycilic acid, hot baths, sulphur bandages, electricity, friction, liniments, all kinds of medicaments were tried, but all were unavail­ing. The only thing that left me was my balance at the bank; and my brother just then arriving from England, took me over with him to Calcutta a crippled and helpless burden. In Calcutta I had the best ad­vice, and all the alleviations that unbounded brotherly tenderness could procure, but the doctors could do nothing for me, and sea air and prolonged change of climate were prescribed as a last desperate resource, although even then it was feared I would remain a cripple for life.

When my two brothers carried me in their arms up the steamer's steep sides, and bade me adieu with fal­tering speech and moist eyes, little did they imagine that a few short months of the wonder-working air of sunny Australia would transform me into a hale and ac­tive man again; and alas ! as little did I imagine that in little more than a year my gentle younger brother would succumb to that dreaded Indian scourge— cholera.

Let me carry you back to the muddy, swift, and silent Hooghly. The engineers have gone below, and we are busily getting up steam. What a motley ever changing scene the deck of the steamer presents to my view as I lazily survey it from my easy-chair! Here are Chinese, habited in blue and black calico, returning to the. land of the sun, each with a heterogeneous assortment of odd-shaped cups, tea-pots, and cooking vessels, destined to prepare the mysterious mixtures and decoctions in which the soul of the Chinaman delighteth.

Perched high on a pile of boxes are several Arab Jews and Jewesses, swathed in shawls and turbans of the gaudiest colours. One is a watchmaker from Baghdad, another a jeweller from Aden, while, to complete the group, we have a blind beggar from Damascus. With his shaven poll, his close-cropped dark beard, and his staring, sightless eyes, he looks perhaps the most picturesque of the group.

A noisy party of low-caste Germans are shrugging, shouting, and gesticulating with amazing vigour and volubility. Their flash jewellery and brazen looks proclaim them pot-house runners or crimps, very vul­tures in human guise. Lascars, Malays, Armenians, negroesfrom Mozambique, Mussulmans from the Straits, Jews, Christians, Turks, and Greeks flit about the deck like figures in a phantasmagoria. A party of Armenian Jews, with Hindu servants, are busy attending to the wants of over a thousand goats and sheep, which, cooped and confined between barricades, stagger on the slippery deck, or, with terror in their eyes, and cries and moans of fear and pain, jostle and lurch from side to side with every movement of the steamer. Farther forward, near the cooking galleys of the China­men, are two or three rows of cows and bullocks which seem quite as miserable and as much abroad as the poor sheep and goats.

All of these animals are intended for the Penang and Singapore markets. The trade is entirely in the hands of a few Jews and one or two Mussulmans, who make it pay most handsomely.

Far over the length and breadth of India, from Dinapore, Patna, Bhangulpore, and in many a village of Bengal, their emissaries buy up all the goats and sheep they can collect, at prices ranging from a rupee to four or five rupees, but rarely more. They pay a freight of two and a half to three rupees a head, and get seven and eight, and not unfrequently ten and even twelve dollars for each animal landed at Penang or Singapore. Deducting losses by deaths, expenses of fodder, &c., our dealers still realize the handsome average profit- of from three to four dollars, say, seven to eight rupees a head on each goat or sheep. These Jews are fine-looking fellows, perfect linguists, and clever, versatile, shrewd men of business; but one and all aboard our steamer betrayed a marked partiality for spirits. They drink a most intoxicating liquor, distilled from dates and flavoured with aniseed, and during the whole voyage were more or less drunk.

By-and-by, as the busy crowds settle down to their places, the medley of sounds dies away, and the un­happy goats, at last making up their minds to the inevitable, begin to turn their attention to the bunches of dried grass, which, twisted into the strands of a long rope, are hung all over the deck at short intervals. We are an animated farm-yard; and when the wind is ahead, the odour from the pent-up animals is strong enough to "kill bees," as the Scotch mate remarks.

There is little of interest on either of the river's banks. "We have left the shipping and the jute mills far behind, and already sniff the faint far odour of the sea. Near the light-ship, we pass two strongly-built, red-striped boats, with clumsy platforms of bamboos projecting over the sides. The bulwarks are open, but the crafts seem stiff sea-boats, able to live in a strong gale of wind, as indeed they are. I find these boats are from the Maldive islands, where they are built. They make one voyage a year to Calcutta, loaded with shells, cowries, dried fish, cocoa-nuts and coir fibre, and return with rice, ghee, dall, and other, edibles. A Yorkshire captain on board, travelling, like myself, in search of health, tells me that the islanders are fanatic Mussulmans all, but very hospitable. He was once wrecked among them, and they kept him and his crew for six months, and would take nothing whatever as the price of their hospitality.

The air is now getting chill; a fine fresh breeze ahead of the beam, and a crimson bank of cloud to leeward, changing to grey and bluish-black as the sun sinks, tell us it is time to go below; so we leave the crowded deck to seek the solitude of our cabins, and dream perhaps of health renewed. The sea air began soon to work wonders on the shattered invalid. My fellow-passengers the Yorkshireman and a genial Ame­rican from Philadelphia were kindness itself, and we had some pleasant musical evenings on the run down the bay. Little of incident occurred, and little worthy of narration, beyond the periodical squabblings of the freely bibulous Israelites, as they quarrelled over their cups—and on the 28fch of January, about sunset, we sighted Penang island in tlio hazy distance, but it was not till midnight that we. dropped anchor in the harbour.

Next morning we were threading our way among crowds of Chinese, Malays, and Klings. This day was being held the great couree festival of the Madras- ses, and all were dressed in their brightest holiday colours. A vast concourse were hurrying up to the waterfall that comes tumbling over a lofty wooded crag behind the town.

Getting into a gharry, we rattled through the crowd at a tremendous pace. The gharries here are all drawn by very small ponies from the province of Deh-li on the mainland, and the pluck, pace, and endurance of the little animals are surprising. Earely exceeding twelve hands in height, they are the hardiest and most spicy-looking little "tats" I have ever seen, the beau- ideal of a hockey tat, and to be bought for from 80 to 100 dollars. "Were the aristocratic sportsmen of Lillie- bridge but to import these little equine wonders, Polo in perfection might be enjoyed in England, such as the famed Muninpoorees themselves might not equal, and such as has never certainly yet been witnessed by any Polo club in the United Kingdom.

On we went, between neatly-trimmed hedges of China bamboo, past Chinese shops with quaint signs, and dried fish of curious shape and fearful odour, flap­ping in the breeze. Past groups of Malays with cala­bash hats and gaudy silks shimmering in the sun; dusky beauties bedecked with golden ornaments on nose, hair, ears, feet, arid arms; such a wealth of jewellery. What a splendid loot Penang would make ! On past plantations of areca-nuts; past the baths built on the face of the hill, with the murmur of falling water sounding pleasantly in oar ears; past the fair with its noise and glitter and heat; with its merry-go-rounds, and rocking-boats in full swing, peep-shows, stands of confectionery, and a Chinese theatre, crammed to the door with a noisy and excited audience; Fakeers shout­ing and singing, and rattling their strings of beads on their polished cocoa-nut shells; beggars in every atti­tude of deformity, and in every stage of disease.

Such a sight I never saw before. Far up the tortuous road wound the streams of devotees, among the luxuriant tropical vegetation, looking like a huge crawling snake, displaying fresh folds of ever-changing colour at every moment. A clear stream came dancing among the boulders, and here, in each pool and under every rippling cascade, we beheld a noisy group of bathers, the long black hair of the women streaming in the sparkling water, like a vision of (a nut-brown) Undine and her nymphs. On every hand, huge boul­ders of granite reared their rugged fronts from a wil­derness of flowers and tangled ferns; while far up the wooded mountain-side the flashing waterfall bounded from rock to rock, tossing its shattered spray among the sunbeams. The scenery was magnificent; the changing groups, the bewildering colours, the varied costumes, the bustle and stir, and noise and laughter. One almost felt as if he were assisting at some mad festival in the shadowy realms of dreamland. All this time, however, the heat and its attendant thirst were painfully real; but having quenched the latter in a bumper of cocoa-nut milk, we again made for the steamer, leaving the transformation scene behind us. Next day we bade good-bye to Penang, and left for Singapore.

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