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Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 2 - Chapter Seventeen

Next to Shanghai, Singapore is the busiest port in the Orient. But they placed too much dependence upon one commodity for export—Rubber. When the terrible slump in price of this article came, it struck this port heavily. A good deal of building is going on, and there is an air of activity about the place that was totally absent from Hong Kong or Manila, so for the kind of times we are passing through I would say Singapore has "no kick coming." The harbor was fairly well filled with shipping, and we were told that the previous month was busier than when we were there. Quite a fair amount of cargo was moving, despatch was fairly good and stevedoring was cheap. The Robert Dollar was an unreasonably long time in port on account of having to move a large quantity of Bombay lumber from the 'tween decks to the deck so as to make room for 3000 measurement tons of cargo. Had it not been for this she would have had quick despatch.

I found that the other steamship lines had gotten it into their heads that we were not only interlopers, but also rate slashers; and gave us the cold shoulder. This was partly brought about by our refusal to sign an agreement, that all the others signed, to keep the present rates, and before making any cut to notify all the others of our intention. Mr. Shreve, however, did send them a letter to the effect that we would keep rates. We had a meeting at which I told them we never had been guilty of being the first to cut, but reserved the right as soon as anyone cut, to follow or not as we saw fit, and, furthermore, that we were there to stay, and wanted to work harmoniously with them, and wanted to get our fair share of the business. They are convinced now that we are a permanency, and I don't think there will be much more trouble. The strange part of it was that, the Blue Funnel Line manager, Mr. Hennings, was the greatest complainant and just at this time his Liverpool office ordered the rate on rubber cut from $15 to S12, without consulting- anyone. This no doubt was because that company wants to rule the roost and tell all others where to "get off." No one can understand such a cut at this time as there is enough cargo to go around. It requires close watching to hold our own.

The Robert Dollar Company office has been moved to 117 Market Street. It is commodious and much better than the one we had. We are getting our share of the business and our affairs appear to be in a prosperous condition.


For many years I had read all I could get on die subject and tried to get information from others. Then, when I came to Calcutta, and inquired of everyone who is supposed to know, and closely questioned pilots, I must confess that the more I tried to learn, the less I knew. So, I am writing a brief account of what I found out in eight short days. I make this statement so you may understand how imperfect my account must be.

Pilot Ridge Rung, 142 miles from Calcutta, is where a pilot boat is generally to be found. The pilot boats are three-masted steamers and are of good size for this sort of work. The pilots are graded into four classes, besides apprentices, the higher-ups taking the big boats and so on down the line.

When we came along with the Robert Dollar we took on a pilot of the highest grade, who told me that this was largest ship that had ever attempted to go up the Ilugli to Calcutta. They depend upon the speed for safety, and when he learned that we could give him twelve knots he was reassured and satisfied. I watched as closely as I could all the way, but at tunes the rain fell in such torrents it was impossible to see a ship's length ahead. Fortunately the showers were not of long duration, and we had intervals during which we could see clearly.

This river is the best buoyed and "shore-marked" of any river I ever saw, and I came to the conclusion that this total lack of obtainable information, and the tales that we hear of the terrible dangers in navigating this stream are caused by


the hue and cry of the pilots, so they will he able to hold their positions. I totally faded to see anything to prevent a good captain from taking his own ship up or down with the aids to navigation that 1 mentioned. I understand the Pilots Association is a close corporation and no one is allowed to pilot a ship until he has served an apprenticeship of five years. Generally, the pilot and an apprentice board a ship. The pilot who brought us up appeared to be a first-class navigator.

The water of the Hugli is of a brownish color and full of sediment. During the rainy season it is subject to heavy freshets.

The first bar is Saugor Island Middleton sand bar, ninety-four miles from Calcutta and forty-eight miles from the pilot boat. I completely failed to get the information as to what bar had the. least water on it, so cannot make a comparison, and the only thing to assume is, that they all have the same amount of water on them, which of course is not correct. While we were sounding, five and one-quarter fathoms was the least we found on any of the bars, of which there are six ib all. The next bar is twenty-four miles further up, that is seventy miles from Calcutta, called Gabtola bar. Then eighteen miles further along is Bellary bar Up to this point the land is very low, all alluvial and made from the silt deposits. It resembles the mouth of the Yangtse very much. The river up to this point is several miles wide, with many mud banks, some showing at low water, and many with only a few feet of water over them. Only in the buoyed channel, which has been dredged is there sufficient water for steamers. From here up the rich land appears to be well cultivated, and the crops look healthy, as it is the rainy season

Ten miles farther up is Diamond Harbor, which appears to be- just a wide bend in the river. As a matter of fact, the indentation on the right leads to the entrance of the Sun derabunds, the waterway to the Brahmapootra Valley and the Ganges. Vessels often drop down to Diamond Harbor and lighter cargo from incoming ships, so as to lighten them for the trip over the next bar, five miles up the river, called the James and Mary,

The James and Mary is the most dangerous shoal in the river Hugh, as it is of quicksand formation. More than one vessel, with all hands, has been sucked into its cavernous depths without a chance of rescue. The unlucky vessel which may he swept on this shoal by the current or through any defect of machinery or steering apparatus, has no chance to escape this treacherous bar.

Fifteen miles further is Royapur bar, then a "reach" of four miles in length and the ship arrives at the last bar, eighteen miles from Calcutta, and said to be the shallowest of them all. Between Diamond Harbor and this bar there is no anchorage ground for ships. Fifteen miles further up brought us to Garden Reach, where the new wet dock is being built, an immense undertaking. At this place new wharves and warehouses are being built for two miles along the river bank. This work is only partially completed. The Robert Dollar was the first steamer to dock at the lower end. The wharves and warehouses are of steel and first-class in every way, an excellent place to berth big steamers. Garden Reach is five miles from Calcutta although within the harbor limits. An assistant harbor master must berth and make fast all steamers, as no captain is supposed to be competent to dock a steamer in Calcutta. And here I saw an exhibition that made me sick.

We started at 2:00 p. m. and finished at 9:00 p. m.. seven long hours that any captain could have done in half the time. Sixty fathoms of our 2%-inch anchor chains had to be placed on a barge and taken aft to moor the ship to the wharf. They compel each ship to be made fast with two pieces, 30 fathoms of their anchor chains. The pilot bringing the ship up the river will not allow the anchor to he unshackled until we get to the harbor lines, then the harbor master won't allow the ship to come alongside until he goes through all his costly farce of getting his chains ready. One would ask "Why?" The only answer is, pure cussedness. There we lost a clear half day. T never saw or heard of such a performance in any other port. Then, it takes about the same time to let go and put all the chains back in the lockers. So, it took the Robert Dollar one whole day to make her fast at the dock and let



gut again. As it takes two days to bring a ship up the river and three days to take her back, when figuring the cost of the port, one must charge up six days' time more than has to be allowed at any other port, a very serious handicap against Calcutta. Therefore, a higher rate of freight must be obtained to offset this loss of time.

My instructions had been not to figure on going out of Calcutta with more than twenty-six feet draft, but all my figures were based on salt water. On further investigation, I believe twenty five feet would be much safer ; then, if there is a high tide the ship may be loaded down to twenty-seven feet, which would mean twenty-seven feet fresh water at Calcutta.

The pilots claimed that ships of less than ten knots are difficult to handle on account of the strong current, but I informed them that they could get twelve knots out of every vessel we sent into the Hugh".


To write of a city of one million people with an acquaintance of only eight days, must of necessity be only from a limited observation.

In approaching it from the river, the first thing I saw was a great number of tall smokestacks, showing it to be a manufacturing center. Then, coming closer, I was impressed with the structures, all of the most solid and substantial sort, giving one the impression that the city had come to stay, and I think it is the great commercial center of India.

Calcutta is well laid out, with many wide straight streets. All streets are well paved and well kept up with good wide sidewalks, in fact a modern city. The buildings are generally solid and substantial, from four to five stories high. Many have only stairways to the upper floors, but the more modern ones have lifts (elevators), nearly all of which carry only three people, and in most cases a young fellow can run up stairs as fast as the elevators go. Why they don't have elevators that will carry fifteen or twenty people and run six hundred feet a minute I was unable to find out—but for three people who are not m a hurry they are a convenience.

One thing that must impress all strangers is the magnitude of the public parks. One called the Maidan, said to be seven square miles, is laid out with great wide driveways, seventy to one hundred feet wide, all good automobile roads. The grass is kept green all the time by constant watering and there are great avenues of fine old trees. Dalhousie Square, in the center of the business part of the city, is another fine park about fifteen hundred feet square with a small lake in the center. The Exchange and best buildings of the city are in its vicinity.

I was passing in front of the Exchange, which is a very fine building, during a busy time when the street was full of autos and carriages (a great many of the latter being still in use here), when on the sidewalk and in the midst of this great crowd two cows were sauntering along. The cows evidently were used to the situation, as they took no notice of the crowd. This is not an uncommon sight, as cows appear to be privileged characters, but having such a privilege one would think that they would have better manners than to stand in the crowd and drop manure on the fine, wide, and otherwise clean sidewalks. Such is the case, however, and if you are high -minded and don't look to your feet you will get in trouble. This is one of the strange sights I saw.

In the native sections of the city, goats, pigs, dogs, chickens, naked children, etc., are some of the sights to be seen on the streets. I think 95% to 99% of those you meet are natives.

Hut a short distance above the Howrah bridge on the Calcutta side of the river is what is known as a "burning ghats' Here the bodies of dead Hindus are cremated :ti plain view from the river, but not from the roadway. Although I did not attend any cremation, an eye witness to many of them informed me that the burning ghat consists of a piece of land surrounded on three sides by walls, but open to the river. The funeral pyre is composed of three or four layers of logs about four or five feet long, laid criss cross. On this the body is placed after the limb joints have been broken. Three or four more layers of logs are then placed on top of the body and the entire mass covered with ghee, a native grease, and set afire When the body begins to be consumed, a pointed iron is thrust into the skull to prevent it from bursting. Prayers and crying by the mourners usually accompany the ceremony. The men, who make a business of cremation, are the lowest cast of Hindus, called domes.

The Hugh River runs along the entire length of the city, while a canal for small boats runs entirely around it. The great means of transporting freight is with the slow ox cart, two oxen to a cart, which causes many blockades on account of the slowness of the oxen—strings of them a mile long can often be seen. Large auto trucks are being introduced but only a comparatively few are in evidence, yet automobiles are gaining fast over the one-horse carriage or "gharry" although the horse-drawn vehicle is in the majority. There are 8000 private motor cars and 3000 taxis.

I never saw so many large offices as here. Many have from 300 to 400 people in one room. One company generally occupies an entire tloor of the building, which is open so as to get plenty of light, but more especially, plenty of air, which is a most essential requirement in this hot climate. When wooden partitions are used, they are built about eight or nine feet high. Office work commences at 10:00 a. m. and stops at 5:00 p. m so it requires more clerks than >f working from 8:00 a. m. to 5 :00 p. m., besides I don't believe the natives can accomplish as much as Europeans.

All Europeans act in a supervisory capacity, therefore, all the clerical work is done by natives. Office space, as a rule is equal to the demand, and there are few if any offices available for renting.

As in England, business is practically all done by brokers, and freights are closed by them. I was not aware of this until I got here, although I was quite familiar with the custom in England. The principals of the firms that I met, are nearly all high-class men, not many of whom are over fifty years old. They appear to be keen traders, and it would take a very able business man to surpass them. I was very much surprised not to meet some men from fifty to seventy years of age, but they were only conspicuous by their absence. I was told that such men are ail in England managing the business from that end.

Calcutta, like Shanghai, is built on level alluvial soil just a few feet higher than high water mark, and many centuries ago the ocean shore was where the city now stands.

As to the water front, in which we are much interested, commencing at Garden Reach, fine substantial steel wharves' are under construction. The Robert Dollar occupied the first one finished. They are straight along the bank of the river with hue large warehouses attached. Just below these new wharves they are building a new wet dock, which will take several years to complete, as it is to be large and will accommodate many steamers.

Further up the river and above Garden Reach, at a suburb of Calcutta called Kidderpore, is located the wet dock, which can accommodate a dozen or more large steamers. This dock has also plenty of warehouse accommodations to take care of all cargoes, incoming or outgoing.

Still further up the. river as far as the How rah bridge, ships are berthed at the river side. Howrah is a large suburb on the left bank of the river and is the terminal of the East Indian Railway. This bridge is a wonder in its way it is built on pontoons and is about forty feet above the water. It is double tracked, and four vehicles can pass over it abreast, but even with this capacity it is unable during the busy times of the day to carry the great crowds of pedestrians, autos, horse-drawn vehicles and the everlasting string of ox carts.

Then in addition to all the berthing space there are a great number of buoys for vessels to make fast to, when the harbor is crowded. It was slack when we were there and all vessels were accommodated at wharves.

I consider the port charges excessive. Some excuse may be made because the Robert Dollar was the largest vessel that, had ever docked at Calcutta.

I visited all the lumber yards to see what stock they carried. The nulls are located on the left bank of the Hugh.


or the Howrah side as it is called, a little farther down stream and about opposite where the Robert berthed. I found only a small quantity of Douglas fir in the yards, probably one and a quarter million feet, they count it in tons. Most of it was not in very good condition, as t was stained and black, and in some cases white ants had gotten into it. There was a large stock of teak of all sizes, and an immense stock of square logs in the water, some very big pieces being amongst them. There was quite an assortment of native pine of small sizes and lengths, but nothing to compare with the size and length of Oregon pine. However, the native wood being cheaper, it is used whenever it is possible.

Near the yards are situated the Botanical Gardens, and we heard of a wonderful Banyan tree, so we went to see it. It was certainly one of the wonders of the world. It had been planted over 150 years ago, and had since put out big limbs in every direction. Parallel to the ground and about ten feet above it. the lunbs put out what might be called runners back to the ground, where they took root about ten feet apart, and continued their growth giving one the impression they were posts supporting the lumbs. Those posts, as I called them, are now twelve inches in diameter; this system has continued until the lunbs of more recent growth are from one inch and up in diameter. The mother tree has a diameter of about eight feet and I measured the distance to the outer growth and found it to be 325 feet, the outside circumference of the tree is over 1000 feet. The main trunk is now showing signs of decay, but all the sprouts are in a very healthy condition. The avenues, within the gardens, are all well paved and ifa excellent condition, there being some fine ones bordered by palms. The size of the gardens is about 400 acres, and in its vicinity there is a big native population to whom this place is a blessing.

Mr. Watson, Manager for McLeod & Co., was kind enough to drive us up to his Kelvin jute mill, a dozen of miles up the river, and we were very glad of the opportunity of seeing a modern jute mill, where several thousands of men and women were employed. The machinery seemed to be of the very hest and was running to perfection. As this is the first one I had ever been 'n, I won't attempt to describe it. We saw the raw material coming in and being turned out m cloth, and various kinds of bags, truly this is one of the great industries of India.

One thing that interested me in particular was the sight of a number of children in the mill from two to six years of age, most of them as naked as they were born. On inquiry, 1 learned that their mothers were working in the mill and were allowed to bring the children with them. Boys and girls of seven years and over were working at light jobs at which they appeared to be quite smart. The mills run thirteen and a half hours a day, but no one had to work more than eight hours, although I did not learn how the time was divided. The company has good houses for its European employees, of whom there were more than a dozen. There is both water and rail transportation to and from the mill.

We next visited their shoe factory, a short distance away, which was a revelation to us—the making of shoes entirely of jute—soles, uppers, heels and all. The manufactured product had the appearance of being a serviceable article. Here we saw the raw material going in and the finished article coming out. It is a comparatively new? business, and so far, the entire product is sold ir. India. The factory employed a great number of girls and boys. The girls were a curiosity. All had their nostrils pierced and everyone had. I was going to call them "ear rings," but I must call them nose rings, some of them hanging down as far as the mouth. Their arms and ankles were adorned with a variety of rings, both of metal and colored glass. They were an interesting side show. We saw only one European, the manager. Both of these plants gave us the impression that there was someone at the head who was a first-class organizer, as I fully realized the great difficulty in getting manufacturing plants into such good working order where there are so many natives employed.

Another strange sight, not seen mi other countries, is the large number of crows and bromlekites doing scavenger work on the streets and river front. They go on with their work and don't mind the crowds passing by. I was told the following story of the fearlessness of the kites toward man: Several of the crew of a sailing vessel were eating their dinner on the forecastle head, when one of the men put his plate on deck while he filled his cup with coffee. He had hardly turned around before a kite swooped down and stole the meat from his plate. Another scavenger bird that is common to Calcutta is the "Adjutant," which, though a bird of wonderful plumage, has a very peculiar appearance, as it stands about three and a half to four feet in height, and struts about like a military man on parade.

One peculiarity of the river Hugh is the appearance during the southwest monsoons of a phenomenon called the "bore," which is a solid mass of water from six to eight feet in height. It enters the river at its mouth and continues its course upstream far above Calcutta at a rate of from twenty to twenty-two miles an hour, sweeping everything before it that is not properly secured, and generally causing considerable damage to native craft. Vessels at anchor or moored to buoys or wharves at Calcutta during the season of the bore, always attach rope hawsers to their chains for springs, so that the first shock of this tidal wave will be taken up by the hawsers. This is done to prevent the snapping of the chain cables.

Navigating the rivers of India, is very similar to the inland navigation of China, excepting that where there are rocks in the Yangtse, there are sandbars in the Ganges and Brahmapootra. During the dry season in India the channels of even these large streams are very shallow and often shift over night. If a vessel were to strike a sandbar and no attempt made to get her off at once, it would be but a few hours before she would become engulfed in sand.

I have been informed that, whereas, during the dry season a river steamer on its way up the Brahmapootra will be steaming between banks but a few hundred feet wide that in the rainy season over the same course, the only land visible is the lofty peaks of the Himalayas, a hundred miles or more away. In other words, the river has spread out to such an extent that water instead of land forms the horizon.

At the commencement of the rainy season, navigating conditions change. The sluggish waters of the two large rivers show signs of an increasing current, which as the season advances, become torrents, and where the Ganges and Brahmapootra come together there are said to be times when steamers bound up-stream find it difficult to stem the tide.

With the rising of the waters, the river banks are more or less cut away, and the channels shift with the course taken by the swift-rushing water. As the rivers continue to increase in depth, they also lose the confinement of the banks and spread out over the land which but a short time previously has been producing crops.

Transportation between Calcutta and the Brahmapootra Valley, and along the lower Ganges, is carried on by one or two steamship companies. The steamers are side-wheel vessels, something similar to the old Mississippi boats, but smaller, and they carry only a few hundred tons of cargo. The cargo vessels, which are called "flats," are built of steel plates, shipped in sections from England, about one hundred and fifty feet long, by about twenty feet beam. They are somewhat similar to a canal boat, with the exception that they are roofed over with galvanized ir6n, high above the deck amidships where the iron sheets from each side form a peak. The lower end of the sheets are fastened to a fore and aft beam on each side, which is supported by stanchions about eight feet above the deck, and from six to eight feet apart. These vessels carry about 1000 tons at a draft of six feet. Cargo is loaded into the holds as well as on deck. The officer's quarters (only one white man to a vessel) are built forward, the crew sleeping on the after deck. A steamer leaving Calcutta for up-country will take a flat or two in tow. Only a small, general cargo is carried as a rule.

To reach the continence of the Ganges and Brahmapootra rivers, a distance by fail of less than one hundred and fifty miles, it takes a steamer with flats in tow from five to seven days, according to whether it is the dry or the rainy season. From Calcutta they steam down the Hugli to Diamond Harbor, turn at almost right-angles to the eastward and enter the


Sunderabunds, which are a network of small streams traversing- dense jungle land. One author in speaking of this section says, "The Sunderabans cover over 6500 square miles of water-logged jungle infested with tigers and other wild animals."

With one exception, the rivers through which the vessels pass, are narrow, and tortuous, and in several instances they have to make the turns in single tile; swinging around the corners by the use of lines made fast to trees, or to stakes driven into the ground. Several hundreds of miles are covered before reaching the junction of the Ganges and Brahmapootra, from where the vessels proceed up the river to which they are destined. The steamer and flats return to Calcutta with full cargoes of the various products of the region at which they load. These consist of jute in drums, wheat, tea, rape seed, mustard and other varieties of seed, castor oil beans, dry pepper in sacks, rubber and what not.

To show the difficulties in getting out of the river Hugh, the following may be interesting: The first day the Robert Dollar was taken down the stream forty-five miles from Calcutta and brought to an anchor; the second day she made a distance of thirty miles toward the sea, and the third day she got out.


Previous to the building of breakwaters, Madras harbor was unprotected, there being only a straight coast line for many miles with shifting sands for a bottom ground, so it was a big undertaking to make it a safe harbor.

The breakwater is built of concrete blocks, weighing twenty to thirty tons. It resembles the harbor of Manila, but is far more substantially built, as it has to resist heavy seas at times and constantly shifting sands. Since the first sea wall was built the sands have encroached nearly half a mile. A railroad track is built on the breakwater, and is used for handling bulk cargoes into the cars. Warehouses are built the entire length on the shore side, so cargoes can be delivered in or taken out direct to ships. There are sufficient cranes for lifting heavy weights. The piers are of solid masonry and there is twenty-seven feet of water at low tide at the docks. There are plenty of huoys for vessels to lay to if the wharves are occupied. At the present time the harbor is large enough for all requirements, as at least thirty large steamers can be accommodated at one time. Good despatch is given, something over 1000 tons a day, and the charges are reasonable. Mr. Mitchell, chairman of the Harbor Board, was very kind and showed me about the harbor, and all that was to be seen, fully explaining its management and working system. Steamers should have no delay in entering or leaving Madras and good despatch can be given. There is ample storage room and plenty of warehouse space. Large quantities of ore of various kinds were piled ready for shipment. 1 was much pleased with this port, both in its management and in its facilities for doing business. The tides are very small, only from two to three feet.

One strange sight was, that instead of oxen pulling the big cumbersome carts, men were used. I asked the reason and was told men were cheaper than oxen, hi most other places oxen furnish the motive power in the moving of merchandise. This goes to show how low wages are. The distance we had to travel by rail from Calcutta to Madras, was over 1032 miles.

The old city adjoins the harbor, and all the business houses are located nearby, with the native quarters back of t; but the retail and residential part of the city is across a river, and about five miles further along the ocean shore. A great park divides the town. I have never seen any city situated just like this one. The residential part is laid out with wide straight streets, well paved and, for a tropical country, they are modern. In the old parts are many buildings, the lower doors of which are used for warehouses, and the upper parts for offices. Our agents, Walker & Co., have occupied the same offices since 1849. The British first occupied Madras about 500 years ago.

They have some very good clubs, and also a woman's club, which is a beautiful building, standing on a big tract of land outside the city. There are many large shade trees, a good size banyan tree, large lawns and a river runs through it. Take it all in ail, it is ideal for a tropical country.

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