CHINA AND JAPAN
Arrival at Cape Town -- Romantic scenery -- Table Mountain and the Table-cloth -- Excursion to Constantia -- Remarkable tree -- the vineyards -- Manner of expressing the grape juice -- Description of Cape Town -- Ascent of the Table Mountain -- Sail for Mauritius -- Tombs of Paul and Virginia -- Botanical garden -- Sail for Singapore -- Accident to machinery -- Stop at Acheen -- A suicidal plot -- Arrival at Singapore -- Dinner at the Prussian Consul's -- Residence of a Chinese gentleman -- Curious animals -- Fight with a tiger -- Mixed nationalities -- Religious toleration.
We anchored off Cape Town on the 19th of February, under the direction of the harbor-master, whom we received on board near the entrance of the bay. The view of the town and its vicinity is striking and picturesque in the extreme. The perpendicular sides, and flat surface of Table Mountain behind the town, with the "Lion's Head" and "Devil's Peak" rising on either side, like two grim waiters standing by to spread the "table-cloth" whenever the mountain king may command; and the broad plain stretching away into the distance on the northward and eastward, form altogether one of the finest views I have ever seen.
The peculiar form of the Table Mountain, and the almost unvarying certainty of the indications of approaching bad weather given by its becoming suddenly enveloped in clouds, gives the inhabitants of the town, over which it seems to preside as a sort of weird deity, a personal interest in its condition. The violent winds prevailing from the S.E. during the summer months of January, February, and March, are usually anticipated by the appearance of a white cloud covering the mountain, and this cloud resting on its summit is called the "Table-cloth" -- a name which belongs more to its color and position than to any associations of a gastronomic character which it calls up -- the reverse effect being produced, no doubt, upon many an unlucky landsman chancing to be caught upon the rough waters of the bay when the "table-cloth" is spread.
The long and disgusting passage from St. Helena -- at least double the time we had anticipated -- inspired every one with an eager desire to visit the shore, especially as we had received very glowing accounts of the style of locomotion most in vogue -- nothing short of "a coach and four" being considered exactly the thing -- and the "four" being, of course, fine spirited animals, who could whirl the coach out to Constantia or Wynberg in a period of time quite short enough to gratify our impatient desire to get among the grape-vines and pretty girls, both which, we were informed that Constantia in particular, was celebrated for producing.
After getting fairly started in the always unpleasant but very important duty -- as our recent experience had deeply impressed upon us -- of replenishing our coal bunkers -- I joined an agreeable party of messmates for a day's excursion into the country, for which we took our departure from the hotel in the city at about 11 , in a fine carriage drawn by two elegant grays, and driven by as good a specimen of a Yusef as could reasonably be expected in an English town.
The sun shone with terrific power, and the dust flew and whirled around us in massive clouds as we dashed along the unpaved street leading out of the northern edge of town, and we had to "keep a bright look out ahead" to avoid a collision with the tremendous seven-yoked ox-teams, and the droves of cattle we encountered in that locality; but soon we reached the broad avenues of shade trees for which the country here is justly celebrated, and the good roads always to be found where English people dwell. The ride then became delightful in the extreme -- beautiful villas, lying snugly embowered in the midst of shrubbery and flowers of brilliant and varied hue, were seen on either side of the road, partially concealed, to be sure, by the green hedges and trees which separated them from its dusty redness and heat, but looking all the more attractive and cosy for their seclusion.
The villages of Ronderbosch and Wynberg were passed at a rapid trot, and gave us a very pleasing impression of the combination that has evidently been made of the English and Dutch style of architecture, and domestic arrangement.
The road continued quite level for two or three miles after we passed Wynberg, when it began to ascend the side of a hill on the right, and lead through a splendid grove of oaks up to the very gate of Constantia -- or "Groot Constantia," as the sign over the gateway has it. Little Constantia lies somewhat to the right of this, at the eastern base of Table Mountain, and as this was the principal object of our excursion, we spent but a short time in tasting the various wines produced at the former place, and examining a curious tree in the beautiful grounds surrounding the proprietor's dwelling. This tree was twisted and contorted into the most curious and grotesque form, and advantage had been taken of the singular freak of nature displayed in its growth, to interweave a sort of rural retreat among its branches, where a rustic table had been formed, and seats ranged around it in similar eccentric positions.
Returning to our stylish conveyance, we pursued our joyous way to the resident of Mr. Cloete, at Little Constantia, who gave us the most hospitable reception, and introduced us to his handsome and accomplished daughters, with whom we passed half an hour in the most agreeable social chat, in the course of which it was discovered that we had many mutual friends, and the universal friend -- music -- having been cultivated by them to a more than ordinary degree of intimacy, we were entertained with the most brilliant accounts of her richest developments in the piano line, accompanied by the sweetest of all her interpreters -- the female voice.
Bidding a reluctant, lingering adieu to our fair acquaintances, we proceeded, under Mr. Cloete's polite guidance, to inspect the adjacent vine-yards, which presented a somewhat novel aspect to our preconceived ideas on the subject of grape culture; our fancy having represented the vines of immense length, twining and squirming in all directions, on elevated arbors placed conspicuously in the centre of gardens, or else trained along some sunny wall to catch the full warmth and radiance of the vivifying "god of day" -- whereas, we could easily have imagined ourselves in a potato-patch, but for the fact that this useful esculent prefers the lower end of the plant for its development, and the stunted vines by which we were surrounded each bore one, or at the most two large bunches of most luscious grapes, of which we were invited to partake without stint, and responded, it is needless to say, with the most cheerful alacrity. Some surprise being expressed at the withered appearance of these grapes, we were informed that they were in precisely the right condition for making the finest Constantia wine, a beverage not surpassed in exquisite delicacy and richness of flavor by Tokay itself. The grapes are gathered in the latter part of summer, and placed, stems and all, in large vats, where the juice is pressed from them by the tread of negro boys and girls, who are employed for this especial purpose, and whose feet, I will charitably add for the benefit of my fastidious readers, are kept in a remarkably nice condition. This system of crushing is resorted to in order to avoid injuring the gout of the grape juice by too large an admixture of the sap from the stems, which would be the case if machinery were used; and although the associations are not of the most savory character, it cannot be doubted that the mode of expression is the best that could be adopted, and the result is certainly universally approved, the more so perhaps for the modus operandi not always being understood.
From the vineyard we proceeded to the wine room, where, in huge casks neatly arranged on each side of a large airy vault, the grape juice is deposited for the purpose of undergoing the process of fermentation; after which the various qualities and descriptions of wine are designated by the well-known brands: Red Constantia, White Constantia, Frontignac, and Pontac, the latter resembling Port wine somewhat in flavor, and the others being of a more luscious character. We had "a pull" at them all, of course, and I am not quite decided yet to which variety I should give the preference were I called on to do so.
Mr. Cloete was quite anxious to test the effect of the cruise, in the hot climate to which we were bound, upon these wines, and for this purpose, and of course with no thought of selfish gratification, we procured from him a moderate supply of the different varieties for the wardroom mess. All I can say for his information, with regard to this experiment, is, that the wines would have kept much better if the ladies whom we had the pleasure of entertaining during the cruise, and the members of the Japanese Embassy, had not evinced quite so strong a preference for their exquisite flavor.
Having had a most gratifying introduction to the mysteries of wine-making, and the hour approaching when the "inner man" began to require something more substantial than the delicious fluids with which we had just been regaled, our Yusef was commanded to produce "the grays," with the remotest approach to a "flourish of trumpets" in the order and manner of the individual giving the order. Hunger is a great motive power, and as our grays felt its influence quite as much as any of the party, the nine miles of our return journey were travelled with railroad speed. We soon found ourselves again at the hotel, and having done ample justice to a fine leg of Cape mutton with "the trimmings," once more gladly returned to our cheerful mess-room on board the good old ship.
On the 22d of February we fired a national salute of twenty-one guns at meridian, and dressed ship with the stars and stripes at each mast-head, in honor to the anniversary of the birth of one whose "peerless name" is known but to be revered by all the nations of the earth; -- not only the Father of his country, but the great progenitor of civil and religious liberty to all people who have the heart to cherish and the head to comprehend the rights of free-men. The small tribute of respect paid to his memory by our men-of-war in all parts of the world, exerts a silent but powerful influence over the political condition of those who learn alone from this seemingly trite and formal ceremony, how fondly and how proudly the name of Washington is perpetuated, as it will continue to be through succeeding generations, by every true American.
Cape Town is a well-built and well-governed city, containing a population of nearly 25,000 souls. There is a fine botanical garden near the centre, in the immediate vicinity of the governor's residence, which affords a beautiful shady retreat from the heat and dust of the town in the warm evenings of summer, and is quite a fashionable promenade for all classes; among whom may be seen as great a variety of the genus homo as can be found in any one city in the world; natives of all parts of the globe meeting there on neutral ground. It has a royal marine, and a magnetic observatory, a college, and a library containing 30,000 volumes, a government bank which issues notes, and a joint-stock bank, with a branch at Graham's Town. Within Cape Town is held the Supreme Court of Justice of the colony, and it was constituted a bishopric in 1847.
In the vicinity are numerous villas, and the walks near the town are pretty and neatly kept; one of them which leads along the top of Wynberg hill is very picturesque, overlooking the town and bay, and affording a fine view of the sandy plain and distant mountains, with Green Point (where there is a light-house), and Roben's Island in the distance. The climate is healthy, rendering it a place of great resort for the foreign residents of India.
Cape Town was founded by the Dutch in 1650, and taken by the English in 1795; restored to Holland by the treaty of Amiens, recaptured by the British in 1806, and finally ceded to Britain in 1815. The Cape of Good Hope was discovered by Bartholomew Diaz in 1486, and called by him the "Cape of Storms."
The strong S.E. winds which come in sudden gusts across the sandy plain to the northward of the town, although creating no swell, came with such violence on two occasions, while our ship was moored in Table Bay, as to cause the immense iron cables to snap like a piece of twine; but as we were lying in only four fathoms water, we succeeded without much difficulty in recovering the anchor, with the broken chain attached. These winds brought the dust off to the ship in almost smothering clouds, and interfered greatly with the transportation of coal in boats from the shore; consequently, we were detained here seventeen days -- a circumstance which would have been no source of regret, but for our anxiety to reach our ultimate designation, the coast of China, where Commodore Tattnall was awaiting our arrival with equal impatience; to say nothing of the officers on board the "San Jacinto," which vessel the "Powhatan" was to relieve, as the flag-ship of the squadron.
I must not omit to mention a feat performed by our fleet-surgeon while at Cape Town, in company with one or two of the younger officers, who were actuated by their sight-seeing ambition to attempt the ascent of Table Mountain, which is nearly 4000 feet high. The path leading up its sides is exceedingly rough and precipitous, but with such an undaunted leader the young gentlemen could know "no such word as fail," and success, of course, crowned their efforts; which they were, however, at one time rather disposed to regret, as the "table-cloth" was unexpected spread by the officious, and somewhat too attentive waiters already alluded to, and the party narrowly escaped being enveloped in its ample folds -- a source of terror to venturesome tourists. And speaking of table-cloths reminds me to inform the sympathizing reader that the unlucky wight who palmed himself off upon the ward-room as a first-class steward, was taken suddenly ill while at Cape Town, and out of pure regard to his health was permitted to return in a Yankee bark to the land of his adoption, from whence I sincerely trust he may never again depart in the capacity of steward to any mess of gentlemen "bound on a cruise" -- the stereotyped man-of-war answer to impertinent inquiries concerning their destination.
On the 8th of March, we bade adieu to the bright scenes, and brighter eyes, with which our weary ocean journey was cheered while at Cape Town, and doubling the Cape in fine weather, shaped our course for the Ile of France, or Mauritius, as the loyal Dutchmen who took possession of it in 1598, subsequently named it, in honor of their illustrious Prince Maurice. The wind soon sprung up "right in our teeth," and brought on another case of housed top-masts, lower yards, etc., with wet decks, and a most uncomfortable condition of things generally -- affording no opportunity for any display of the Purser's sparkling humor, or practical jokes, as the "Life of the Mess" was a constant victim to sea-sickness during the whole passage.
We arrived off Port Louis during the night, and I thus lost the pleasure of viewing this beautiful island as we approached it from the southward; but I was fully compensated next morning, as I caught the first glimpse of the land beneath the beams of the rising sun, which touched each craggy mountain, and lofty peak, with golden hue, and showed in fairest colors the harmonious blending of the sublime and beautiful, which united in the formation of this favored speck on old ocean's majestic bosom.
At the distance of two or three miles from the entrance of the harbor, we were boarded by the harbor-master, who soon piloted our noble ship to the moorings placed just within its narrow limits for the accommodation of men-of-war. Here she was moored "head and stern" by strong chains, attached to heavy anchors, intended to resist the force of the violent hurricanes which sometimes blow in this region, and receive the name of cyclone, from their circular course. The harbor is very small, affording anchorage for not more than sixty or seventy vessels, and these moored so as to prevent their swinging to the wind and tide.
The town of Port Louis is built on a plain at the base of the hills jutting down from the Brabant Mountains on the right, nearly to the ocean, and contains a population of nearly 30,000, of whom only about one sixth are whites -- the larger portion being Malays, Lascars, Chinese, and fishermen from Malabar. The whites are principally of French origin -- the nation to whom the island now belongs being represented only by the troops stationed in the fort and barracks, and by a few wealthy merchants. The streets are straight, but not paved; and there are many handsome stone buildings, but the houses are mostly of wood, and of a single story.
During our brief stay in this truly charming place, we contrived to make ample amends for the disgusting time we had passed in reaching it, thanks to the kind offices of a noble-hearted countryman who had been residing there for several years, connected with the largest mercantile establishment in the place. The attentions and hospitalities extended to the officers of the Powhatan by George M. Farnum and his estimable lady, will ever be gratefully remembered by them, and in looking back upon their changeful and eventful lives, the visit to Port Louis will be recalled as one of the most agreeable episodes of the past.
On leaving the island, Mr. Farnum presented to the ward-room mess a daguerreotype of himself and family, of which, on our arrival at Hong Kong, we had two copies of a large size painted in oil, one of which was transmitted to him as a slight evidence of our grateful recollection of his kindness, and the other was reserved to ornament our mess-room and recall to memory the benevolent countenances of friends whom we might never again meet in the journey through life; and, sad to relate, before leaving the coast of China, we received a letter from Mrs. Farnum, announcing the painful intelligence of the death of her husband, and her contemplated return, in consequence, to the United States.
The scenery around Port Louis, is wildly beautiful and romantic; the rugged mountains rising into peaks of considerable altitude and grotesque form, Brabant Mountain, the highest, being 3000 feet, and the remarkable rock called Peter Botte is an insulated rock of singular formation, rising abruptly, and with almost perpendicular sides, from the gently sloping hills by which it is surrounded. Tradition says that an ambitious Dutchman, on the island during its possession by Holland, made the ascent to its highest peak, and having reached it apparently without fatigue, proceeded to the added exertion of hewing himself an arm-chair out of the solid rock, in which he sat to indulge in elevated meditations upon the follies and struggles of the pigmies at his feet. From this most extraordinary specimen of the Dutch race, the rock has derived his name.
The tombs of Paul and Virginia being situated within seven miles of the Port, offered an irresistible inducement, even to the least romantic among us, to make an excursion to the spot wherein the earthly remains of those unfortunate, but singularly virtuous and devoted lovers, are said to have found a final resting-place. The exploring party was made up under the auspices of our friend Mr. Farnum, having first partaken of a splendid déjeune at his residence, while waiting for the heat and dust to subside somewhat before we got under way. We started at about 3 o'clock, and the distance was soon overcome, the road being level and beautiful beyond description. I speak, however, only of its natural advantages and artificial conveniences, for if I included the sights which met our view in every direction, truth would compel me to say that in some places rather a sombre aspect was presented, the way being lined with negroes of all ages and sexes -- not quite in a state of nudity, but so near it that no other single word except naked would convey a correct idea of their costume. Most of them wear a rag of some kind around their loins, decency requiring a partial concealment of their persons, and the excessive heat rendering clothing oppressive to those who have to labor; but this special regard for the "appearance of things" was by no means universal, except, I must add in justice to the gentle sex, among the females. A couple of miles before reaching the "tombs," we halted to pay a short visit to the church where Paul and Virginia are said to have knelt side by side in their devotions to that Providence which threw them together in this distant isle, to live, and love, and die, inseparably united. The resemblance between this church and almost all other edifices consecrated to the same object was so striking, that I must refer my reader for a description to the one nearest his immediate locality, and spare the dullness of written details. Opposite it, however, was that very general precinct, a graveyard, the beauties and peculiarities of which require more special remark. Neatness and order in the erection and preservation of the various monuments, would strike every one on entering the place as its most prominent characteristic; but what attracted my particular notice and admiration were the universal flower-vases filled with beautiful bouquets, which adorned every grave-stone, however humble or ancient its appearance, and which conveyed the idea of the tenderest respect for the memory of the dead.
One of the family vaults was of a very costly and beautiful construction, built in the form of an antique temple, the outer wall being of granite, and the interior lined with white marble -- having the names of its occupants sculptured upon it immediately over their resting-place. It is said to have cost many thousand dollars, and is kept in the neatest order possible.
From the cemetery the party soon adjourned to a magnificent botanical garden in the immediate vicinity, and our admiration for the tenements of the dead was soon lost in the glowing sense of delight caused by the living beauties of Nature. Walking slowly along splendid avenues of graceful and luxuriant trees, bending beneath their weight of foliage, and inhaling the perfume from a thousand various flowers, the sense of the beautiful and picturesque and delicious which filled every breast was almost overpowering. Reaching the further extremity of the garden, we suddenly found ourselves on the margin of two large artificial lakes, whose waters seemed to be strongly impregnated with the aroma distilled from the mass of flowers lining the edges, and which completely covered the numerous little islets with which they were studded. After a short ramble through the various walks lined with palm trees, and an endless variety of shrubs and fragrant flowers, we pursued our journey to the romantic spot said to be the final resting-place of Paul and Virginia. We found it immediately in the rear of an ordinary farm-house, built in the time of the French occupation of the island, and in the most dilapidated condition. When we approached the house we observed the family sitting in the old-fashioned verandah at dinner, and as we formed rather a large party to be traversing a gentleman's private grounds without saying, "By your leave," one of the males rose from the table, and, advancing towards us, made the somewhat impertinent inquiry, "What do you want?" Mr. Farnum replied, with considerable naïveté, "We want to see the tombs of Paul and Virginia." Upon which he was informed that it was "customary before entering a gentleman's premises to ask permission" -- for this piece of information the "gentleman" was politely thanked, and we "went on our way, rejoicing" at each step, that we had not much further to go, as the odors which impregnated the atmosphere were far from resembling those of "Araby the blest," and justified an apprehension that the bodies of the devoted lovers had not yet been interred. On reaching the locality, we discovered two very ordinary square monuments, built of brick and plastered over in imitation of granite, though this covering had been removed in so many places by the ruthless hand of time, and the equally remorseless depredations of romantic devotees to the shrine, that it is by no means difficult to ascertain the paltry character of the material which composes the structures. They are situated about fifty yards in the rear of the house mentioned -- immediately opposite to each other, and on either side of a ditch filled with stagnant water. Take it altogether, it is the most miserable piece of humbug I ever travelled seven miles to see; but as it would have quite destroyed my reputation for sensibility to be in the immediate vicinity of a spot so widely known to the world of romance, without visiting it, I could not decline Mr. Farnum's kind invitation to make one of a most agreeable party. The condition of the monuments indicates either the most heathenish incredulity, or the most culpable moral depravity on the part of the present generation. Doubtless those who have them in charge have found that the fable which made them profitable, can no longer serve the mercenary purpose for which alone they were constructed; visitors being required to pay a small fee for admittance.
From thence we went to a sugar plantation two miles further on, belonging to an English gentleman, and were received in the most cordial and hospitable manner by the family. We had an opportunity here of seeing the apprenticeship system in operation, as the English term their enslavement of the natives of Hindoostan and other parts of India and Africa; and came to the unanimous conclusion, that slavery in its most positive and unblushing form is preferable to the duplicity and robbery perpetuated by the English in their treatment of these ignorant and half-savage creatures. They are enticed away from their homes by lying promises of immense rewards, and a free passage back to their country at the expiration of three years, but the average of those who return is said to be about one fourth, while the remaining portion are left to starve in the colony to which they have been transported, or make a precarious living by robbery and all descriptions of crime. The day of retribution must come, and a fearful one it will be, in all human probability; for these people do not seem to adopt the habits and language of the race with whom they are thrown half so readily as the natives of Africa.
But I am not writing a disquisition on political economy, and will turn from this dark subject to the more agreeable one of the splendid dinner to which we were all invited by the English regiment stationed here for defence, and to keep the inhabitants of the island in proper subjection. The mess is composed of fourteen officers, ranking from a lieutenant-colonel down to an ensign, and being all wealthy men, can afford to indulge in every luxury they may fancy in the way of eating and drinking, which seems to be their principal source of enjoyment in this distant and somewhat monotonous place. The dinner was faultless, of course, and the regimental band, composed of twenty-four fine musicians, discoursed "sweet sounds" while we partook of the dessert, thus combining the pleasures of soul and sense, and giving a higher zest to each. We rose from table about 10 P.M., and spent an hour or so at billiards in an adjoining room, after which our party returned on board "wiser if not sadder men," having learned from our day's experience that John Bull understands the art of good living somewhat better than his nautical descendants in America.
All the officers of the regiment (the "King's Own"), and several others who were en route for India, with their families and recruits for war, had previously visited the Powhatan, and been received with every courtesy and attention. Indeed, scarcely a day passed while at Mauritius, that our ship was not overrun with visitors of both sexes, and of the highest respectability. On one occasion a little dance was gotten up in quite an impromptu style, which every one appeared to enjoy amazingly. The company consisted almost entirely of English officers and their families -- there was only one lady present who could claim no military connections, but to make amends for this, she assumed as martial an air as if the spirit of an entire regiment had been embodied in her own pretty little person. Her dress consisted of a riding-habit, beneath which peeped out, what wonderfully resembled a pair of black unmentionables, though they might have been something entirely different, for, of course, the delicate mysteries of a lady's toilet can never be perfectly understood even by the most enlightened member of the opposite sex. She sported a natty little hat, and carried a riding-whip in her hand, which she looked quite ready to apply, à la Lola Montez, to the shoulders of any one who dared take exceptions to aught she might choose to say or do. As I am not very well versed in Amazonian warfare, I gave her a wide berth, not much caring to approach within reach of her weapon.
The day previous to this little fête, I accompanied Mr. Farnum and several of the officers of the ship to the residence of a wealthy gentleman in the country, where we enjoyed exceedingly a very beautiful view of the island, with the sea in the distance. A more picturesque and romantic spot I never beheld, nor did I ever see a residence which I was more disposed to covet. Almost everything that money and good taste could accomplish had been done to render the place convenient, beautiful, and luxurious; and yet there was evidently not the remotest approach to happiness in the hearts of either of its occupants. Theirs was the old story of "January and May" -- a husband of sixty and a wife one third his age; and of course from the ill-assorted union no good result could spring. Exquisitely charming as everything around us appeared, it required but little penetration to discover that "the trail of the serpent was over it all," and I felt that I would rather spend a single year in the humblest cottage on earth with one who loved me, than a thousand with a heartless woman, however beautiful, in the little paradise we were visiting. Shortly after entering the house we were seated at a splendidly furnished table to partake of what we name lunch, but which the English always call Tiffin, and which, on this occasion, might with great propriety have been styled dinner, and a most sumptuous one at that. We were indebted, to some degree, to Mr. Farnum for our invitation to this place, as we were, in fact, for every civility and hospitality extended to us, except those which came from the English officers. With the most unbounded hospitality, this gentleman devoted himself to our entertainment while we remained at Port Louis; he was not at all partial in his liberality either, but extended it to all alike -- not content with employing three or four carriages by the day to wait on our pleasure, and take us wherever we wished to go, he devoted himself during the whole of our stay to getting up excursions into the country, to visit the remarkable and interesting points on the island, upon which he always accompanied us, and took with him refreshments of every kind, and on our return from these little expeditions he would insist on our going to his house to dine. Moreover, he kept three rooms in his spacious mansion for our especial use, in case we should wish to remain on shore at night; of this privilege, however, I never availed myself, partly because I like my own bed too much, and partly for the reason that my presence was always very necessary on board the ship early in the morning. He was, indeed, a noble specimen of an American gentleman, and much I fear that we shall not soon look upon his like again.
Having completed our preparations, we sailed for Singapore on the 2d of April, parting with the friends who had contributed so greatly to the enjoyment of our visit to Port Louis, with a feeling of sincere regret. Continual variety though, forms one of the strongest ties which binds a sea-faring man to his profession, and without it the life he leads would become almost insupportable. The anticipation of new and untried scenes of pleasure, coupled with the gratifying sense of being in the discharge of duty, reconciles him to parting with the friends he is compelled to resign in pursuance of his vocation, and gives a relish to life by quickening his sensibilities and expanding his practical views, instead of blunting and contracting them, as the plodding routine of the merchant, tradesman, and professional man must almost inevitably do to a certain extent. But I am becoming digressive, and must turn my attention to the practical part of my subject, lest I give offence to some of my land-loving friends.
The passage across the Indian ocean was unusually pleasant, the weather being calm and clear nearly the whole time, the only incident worthy of record being the breaking of an important part of our machinery (a crank-pin), which caused us to run at a lower rate of speed for three days before reaching the island of Sumatra, where we were compelled to anchor, near the town of Acheen, on the 17th of April. Five days were employed here in repairing the damage caused by this mishap, which prevented our making the remarkably quick passage we had hoped to accomplish between Mauritius and Singapore.
Our visits to the shore at this place were very brief and unsatisfactory, the savage-looking natives assembling in crowds on the beach whenever they saw one of our boats approaching, and although not exactly brandishing their ugly, poisonous kreases, to deter us from landing, yet taking especial care that the weapons should not be overlooked. The females invariably scampered away at our approach, and concealing themselves behind the trees and huts, could be seen catching a stealthy glimpse of their apparently unwelcome visitors. Swarms of the coarser sex -- and truly coarse they were -- came off to the ship, and were permitted to inspect her arrangements above the lower deck, though their conduct was under the unremitting surveillance of sundry corporals and messenger boys, to guard against the depredations they were likely to commit on stray articles of metallic formation, for which they appear to have a most covetous longing. There was an air of independence, and, it may be said, of cool effrontery about these sans culotte lords of the soil, which it was quite amusing to witness. Ignorant and brutish as they were, they evidently acknowledged no superior among the civilized race with whom they were so unexpectedly brought into contact, and I should judge from their manner, that if any comparison was drawn by their unreasoning minds, the result was decidedly favorable to themselves. Only two among the entire number (about a thousand), who honored us with a visit, understood a syllable of our language, though much more strange to say, we had an Irishman in the steam department who could converse quite fluently in theirs, and by means of the three interpreters we contrived to procure a little fruit and a few vegetables and fish; as well as the frame-work of which might in time have become a tolerably respectable bullock, but which was such a perfect skeleton when it came into our possession, that it had soon to be "taken down" to prevent its falling to pieces, or to use the Irishman's words, it "was killed to save its life;" and the same fate befell a horribly ugly cat, brought on board by request, through the kind offices of an obliging and intelligent native, who rejoiced in the high sounding name of Mohammed, and had been to Paris!
These wretched demi-savages profess the Mussulman faith, but their practices do not indicate the slightest veneration for anything "in the heavens above or the earth beneath," unless the close concealment of their women may be ascribed to some sentiment of the sort, which is hardly probable.
The town of Acheen is built on wooden piles, and contains about 8000 houses spread over a large area, the population being nearly 50,000. It lies in lat. 5° 34' N. long. 95° 34' E., and is the capital of an independent kingdom of the same name. It was once a powerful and flourishing State, but has degenerated into a miserable semi-barbarous condition. There are one or two cargoes of spices exported from the kingdom annually, which are obtained with great difficulty, and not without danger, owing to the piratical character of the natives.
While here we embraced the opportunity presented by the large bay to fix a target and exercise the crew in firing shell from the new battery, consisting of ten nine-inch and one eleven-inch shell gun, all on the Dahlgren, or as our English friends call them, the "soda-water bottle" pattern. The natives seemed greatly astonished at this performance, and all on board were gratified by the accuracy and rapidity of the firing, as well as the correct timing of the fuzes.
On the 23d of April, we made a second start for Singapore, and, passing through the Straits of Malacca in smooth water and calm weather, accomplished the run of more than seven hundred miles in three days, having been compelled to anchor during the night previous to our arrival, by the darkness and some uncertainty regarding our position, occasioned by the current.
One little incident occurred during this passage of rather an amusing character, though it came very near having a tragic termination. It is worthy of mention, as a slight illustration of the peculiar notions of government existing among the Acheenese. Our friend Mohammed, who, as has been stated, had been to Paris, engaged the services of an ancient fisherman to perform the duties of pilot on board the "Powhatan" during the passage through the Straits, for which he was to receive the sum of forty "Mexicans," one half payable in advance, into the hands of the aforesaid Mohammed. We had proceeded but a short distance on our voyage when it was discovered that this soi-disant pilot had about as much idea of the position of the ship as of the mode of imparting what he professed to know, to our comprehension. Never was human creature more utterly bewildered and amazed than was this poor old man, by the size and speed of the vessel, and the strangeness of every object around him. He protested that he saw the Island of Penang on the morning after leaving Acheen, when it was more than two hundred miles distant, and seemed not less alarmed than grieved by our obstinate incredulity, and persistence in running directly toward it, while he desired the course to be changed in order to avoid shaving the land too closely. After this demonstration of incompetence, no heed was given, of course, to his suggestions, and the master assumed the entire responsibility of the navigation -- a duty for which he was admirably qualified. Stung by mortification at being superseded in his office, and laboring under the most harassing apprehension for the safety of the ship, for which he still considered himself responsible, he used the most super-human efforts to convey to our understanding the assurance that his head would be forfeit were she to get aground. Finding that our sympathies were not to be moved by his pantomimic protestations, he walked deliberately down the side-cleats, and slipped gently into the foaming, rushing waves produced by the rapidly revolving wheels. Fortunately, he was discovered by the quarter-master on the poop-deck, as he passed astern, and the ship was stopped immediately -- not, however, until the infatuated old creature had been left at least two miles astern; a boat was lowered in the greatest possible haste, and sent to his rescue, but the total unconcern manifested by the old man, induced the belief that he was much more at home in the water than on the ship's deck. As to committing suicide, he appeared to have had not the slightest intention of making "a demnition moist body of himself," any further than was necessary to produce a suitable impression upon the heartless and obdurate people among whom he had so haplessly been thrown. He yielded most passively to the efforts of the boat's crew to lift him from the water into the boat, but after remaining perfectly quiet for a few moments, he made a faint effort to jump overboard again, which being resisted, he seemed to resign himself to his cruel fate with the fortitude of a martyr, and submitted to being brought on board again without further resistance. He sulked moodily about the deck until we reached Singapore, where he availed himself of the first sampan to procure a dry passage to the land, from whence he never returned to claim the remaining twenty dollars due for his services.(?)
We anchored in the Roads of Singapore on the 27th of April, in the afternoon, and in compliance with custom, sent a boat on shore immediately, in charge of a lieutenant, to inform the American Consul of our arrival, and to convey the Captain's compliments to the Governor, with the usual offering of a salute to the city, on condition of its return "gun for gun." The boat soon returned bringing off Thomas Biddle, Esq., of Philadelphia, by whom the commercial interests of the United States were most efficiently represented at that time. After communicating with Captain Pearson, relative to the official object of his visit, the Consul insisted upon carrying off either him or his executive officer to dinner at the Prussian Consul's, to which he had been commissioned to invite them, and as the Captain positively declined, I consented somewhat reluctantly to become his representative, the heat and fatigue of the day having given me a much great inclination for repose than for the formalities or hilarities of a dinner-party. The Consul's persuasions, however, were of too demonstrative and striking a character to be resisted, and I came to the conclusion that it would be more agreeable to put a bottle of good wine under my jacket, than to have his cane run through my ribs, which seemed likely to be my fate unless I speedily yielded to the insinuating arguments he continued to poke at me. The question being determined, my toilet was soon made, and within two hours after anchoring the ship, I found myself most unexpectedly en route for the shore, in company with a gentleman I had never met before, and to whom I was indebted for an invitation to dine with another gentleman whose acquaintance I had yet to make.
The pull to the landing was at least two miles and a half, but the lively and agreeable conversation of my companion caused the time to pass so rapidly that I did not find the distance great, and even had it been twice as far I should have been amply compensated by the quiet enjoyment of the Consul's dismay when he discovered, on landing, that his "garay" (as the little one-horse vehicles of the country are called) was not to be found. The gradual descent of his manner from the dignified and confident, to the piteous and imploring, in summoning his syce, or driver, and the "curses not loud, but deep," at the fellow's stupidity, which reached only my ears, afforded sufficient amusement to have reconciled me to an immediate return to the ship without my dinner, though I had by this time entirely forgotten my fatigue, and felt quite disposed to partake of the good cheer I had reason to expect at the Prussian Consul's. The efforts of my aggrieved friend to discover his syce in the darkness by which we were surrounded, proved utterly unavailing, and he was fain to console himself by hiring a "garay" for the occasion, and indulging the hope that the unfortunate delinquent would be devoured by tigers on his way to the "Bungalow," whither he now felt assured he had betaken himself. A pleasant drive by starlight about two miles, brought us to the residence of our host, which proved to be an exceedingly handsome building, situated on a slight eminence, with a wide, smooth road leading up to the front entrance, on each side of which the luxuriant and fragrant shrubs and flowers so liberally planted, gave token at once of wealth and good taste in the occupant. The obscurity of the light prevented my obtaining a distant view of the exterior of the building, but it appeared to be of rectangular form, with a projection of similar shape extending about thirty feet from the house, the lower part of which was paved with stone, and furnished in neat and comfortable style as a dining-hall, while the upper room afforded a most commodious and luxurious lounging place during the warm evenings of this equatorial region. Immediately on the right of the dining-hall, was a large and convenient billiard-room, an almost indispensable appendage to a gentleman's residence in the Eastern world, where out-door exercise is always uncomfortable, and frequently dangerous, except in the morning and evening. The main building was most judiciously divided into parlors, chambers, library, etc., and furnished in an oriental style of magnificence. Our highly respected, but somewhat eccentric Consul, had acquired the reputation of keeping rather irregular hours, and being always late to dinner; consequently, when we arrived, at about 8 P.M., we found the other guests already assembled around our host's munificent table, but the manifestations of welcome on all sides were too decided to allow the Consul to offer his usual apologies, so we took our seats and immediately participated, not only in the animated conversation going on, but in the enjoyment of the various culinary and vinous delicacies presented to our palate.
Among the guests I was introduced to Sir Richard M'Causland, Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of the Straits of Malacca, embracing the settlements of Singapore, Malacca, Penang, and the Province of Wellesley, the latter being on the Malay coast, immediately opposite to the island of Penang, or Prince of Wales Island, as it is called in the charts. This gentleman possesses the elements of popularity to a degree which would enable an American politician to achieve the highest aims of his ambition, and is regarded as one of the most learned judges who has ever donned the ermine in the great Orient. After the wine had duly circulated, he was called upon to respond to a toast in his honor, and made one of the most interesting and humorous speeches I ever listened to -- at the close of which he pledged "The American Consul -- a worthy representative of one of the greatest nations on earth, of which England proudly claims the parentage." This called the Consul out in one of his most brilliant efforts, and I felt the Yankee blood tingle in my veins as I listened to his eloquent and patriotic reply; brief -- as such things ought ever to be -- but full of good feeling and good taste, accompanied by a slight dash of mirthful humor. Soon after this the party adjourned to the billiard-room for a game of poole, in which, as usual, I destroyed a great many "lives," without saving my own, and upon its conclusion we took a cordial leave of our hospitable entertainer. Finding the "garay" without difficulty this time, I proceeded in company with Mr. Biddle, to the country-seat of a Chinese friend of his, distant some four or five miles, where we purposed spending the night, or as much of it as remained. We reached there about midnight, and found that the worthy "Celestial" had long since retired to his slumbers, the portals of his castle being guarded by a native of the "great Empire," who, himself, appeared in a state of somnambulism as he opened them for our admittance. We were shown up stairs into a handsomely furnished parlor, ornamented with an infinite variety of Chinese and other oriental curios, and were soon welcomed by Whampoa in person, whose appearance and manner, I must confess, in no degree confirmed my preconceived impressions of the Chinese character in general. His address was cordial and dignified, and his conversation extremely intelligent -- speaking English more perfectly than any one of his race I have ever met since, and evincing an acquaintance with the usual topics of interest among "outside barbarians" which took me quite by surprise. I learned afterwards from Mr. Biddle, that Whampoa was regarded as one of the most enterprising and charitable citizens of Singapore, being possessed of considerable wealth, from which he frequently made the most liberal and public-spirited contributions toward the improvement of the city, and the necessities of his less thriving countrymen. After spending half an hour in agreeable conversation, we were conducted to our respective apartments for the night, which were furnished in a style and comfort and elegance admirably adapted to the hot climate, and I have never enjoyed a more refreshing night's rest than this, my first and only one under a Chinaman's roof. While the dew was still on the grass in the morning, we were invited by Whampoa to accompany him in a ramble through his extensive and taste-fully ornamented grounds, whose gently undulating surface, abounding in broad, smooth walks, led us through groves of nutmeg trees, and borders of roses and geraniums, which "lent their fragrance to the morning air," and made it redolent of Nature's purest contribution to the gratification of man's senses. Our host then informed us that he was about to show us a goat larger than a cow, and a horse smaller than a dog, and to witness these phenomena we were taken to a little valley in the rear of the dwelling-house, where a variety of animals were confined under a spacious shed divided into stalls, and there we actually beheld an enormous long-haired goat from Thibet, with a full-grown cow from Abyssinia standing near him, and scarcely reaching in height up to his broad back -- the cow certainly weighted less than the goat, the latter being in fine condition, and the former on her "last legs," evidently. The horse was also from Abyssinia, and its size considerably less than that of a gigantic mastiff, which was chained in one corner of a shed. Returning thence to the house, we found a sumptuous breakfast prepared for us, the furniture of the table being in the European style, while the viands were cooked after the Chinese manner, with delicious tea, and the most savory dish of freshly prepared curry I have ever tasted -- with which the inevitable boiled rice was served, accompanied also, by at least a dozen different condiments. I shall long retain the pleasant remembrance of that breakfast at Whampoa's, although I have not the least pretension to an epicurean taste.
Winding up with a cheroot, the party dispersed -- Mr. Biddle returning to the city in his "garay," while I became Whampoa's companion in a snug little cabriolet, and listened with considerable interest and entertainment to his description of the five different plantations of which he was the fortunate but unostentatious possessor -- all situated in the immediate vicinity of Singapore. Nearly all the business men of the city have their residences on the beautiful hills which mark the topography of the country on its western side. Not to be behind the rest of the world in assigning a peculiar designation to these charming rural abodes, they call them by the horrid name of "Bungalow;" whereas, in England they would be known by some fanciful and romantic title, such as Fern Hill, or Moss Bank -- in France, as a chateau -- in Italy, a villa -- and in our own Yankee land as a place.
The climate of Singapore is very warm, of course, being situated almost immediately under the Equator; but the rain-squalls which occur almost daily throughout the year, seem to have the effect of cooling the atmosphere without rendering the place unhealthy, and this is the more remarkable on account of the flatness of the land on which the town is built, and the consequent marshes filled with jungle in the suburbs. There is a dirty creek running into the bay also, which might naturally be supposed to produce malaria of most unwholesome character, and yet the sanitary condition of the place does not appear to be materially affected by any, or all of these causes. Fevers they have, of course, as is the case to a greater or less degree at certain seasons, everywhere; but they are far from being of a virulent type, and are never epidemic. It would seem, however, from the marvellous tales we were told of the destruction of the poor Chinamen in the interior of the island by tigers, that the scourge of wild beasts has been made to answer as a substitute for cholera, and other malignant diseases, which yearly decimate eastern climes; it being positively asserted, on reliable authority, that not less than one man per diem is taken off by these voracious animals. They swim across the narrow strait which divides the island of Singapore from the Malay coast, and lie in ambush among the thick jungle covering nearly the whole of that side of the island, excepting only the cultivated portion; and when the coolies who are employed in the gambier and nutmeg plantations are passing along the paths through the jungle in prosecution of their labors, they are pounced upon with as much celerity, and as little compunction, as a good housewife would exhibit in capturing a choice barn-door fowl for the table. There are instances, however, where the tiger is said to get the worst of the encounter, and one of these occurred during our last visit to this place, which, as we heard it related, borders somewhat on the Gordon Cumming style of adventure. An individual, claiming to be a Kentuckian, and who substantiates his claim by dressing in the peculiar style supposed to be in vogue among western men, viz.: a buck-skin hunting-shirt and bowie knife, with the inevitable rifle on his shoulder by way of company, lives on the tiger side of the island, "without any visible means of support," secluding himself from all society, and rarely coming into contact with any human being. This man brought into Singapore, in the month of April, 1859, the hide of a tiger measuring fourteen feet from the end of his nose (or where his nose once was) to the tip of his tail; for which he received a reward from the Governor's office of one hundred dollars, and subsequently sold the skin for forty-five, a sum sufficient to support him in his hermit mode of life at least a year.
The manner in which this modern "Nimrod" effected the capture of the immense tiger described, gives sufficient evidence of his skill and courage to entitle him to a place among the "mighty hunters" of the age. He had caught glimpses of the villain's stealthy, cat-like movements in the jungle the day previous, and determined at once that one or the other must soon quit the neighborhood or die; so he stationed himself in a convenient position for the recontre, as he had arranged it in his own mind, the tiger not being consulted at all in the premises; and soon seeing his four-footed enemy approach, he watched his movements as stealthily and narrowly as if he himself belonged to the tiger race, and just as the cunning vagabond was about to make the fatal spring on his shoulders, he suddenly fell prostrate, holding his rifle, ready cocked, with a firm grasp. The tiger was, of course, unprepared for any such dodge as this, and over-estimating his distance, jumped clear over the man's body, who instantly sprang to his feet and gave the retreating assailant the contents of his rifle, as he was struggling to extricate himself from the thick jungle but a few yards beyond -- wounding him mortally by a ball inserted at the back of the ear. He was soon dispatched by a desperate lunge of the huntsman's knife, and his skin stripped off and thrown on the back of his horse, which was standing not far distant awaiting the result of the combat. There! if Gordon Cumming can beat that, he can take my new navy cap, which is my nearest approach to a hat at this present writing.
Singapore came into possession of the English in 1819, through the agency of Sir Stamford Raffles, a bold and enterprising navigator, who purchased it from the Malayan Rajah for a stipulated sum and the promise of an annual pension, upon which this dignitary still holds high court with his numerous wives and children, in a small village about a mile from the city; forming a rare, if not solitary instance of good faith and justice on the part of the great head of filibusterism. At the period referred to, the population of the city amounted to no more than two or three hundred souls, but so rapid has been the growth of its commercial importance, that it now contains nearly 90,000 -- consisting of Jews, Arabs, Malays, Klings from the coast of Malabar, and natives of all parts of India. The number of Europeans does not exceed one thousand, though they compose, of course, the wealthiest and most influential class.
All these various nations and tribes live together in great harmony, under the government of their civil and military rulers. There is no religious intolerance either -- the long-tailed Chinaman -- the turbaned Arab -- and the staid, pantalooned European, burn incense to Jos, prostrate their forms in the mosque, or whisper to their hats on entering into their well-cushioned pews, without the slightest tendency to theological disputations, or doctrinal detractions. From this it may be inferred that the greatest degree of religious freedom prevails in Singapore, and, it may be added, that equal latitude is given to the legitimate operations of trade, by way of accounting for the remarkable prosperity and advancement of the place in all that constitutes an enlightened and happy community.
The exports from Singapore consist of tin, nutmegs, sugar, drugs, tortoise-shell, gambier, and other commodities -- many of which are brought from the neighboring islands by the natives in their proas, a style of craft peculiar to this people, and from which, it has been said, the model of our clipper-ships was taken. These boats are seldom more than thirty or forty feet long, and very narrow, having a sharp bow and stern, and carrying very large sails, which gives them a decidedly unsafe appearance to the eye of a European sailor. As they are confined to mild latitudes and smooth seas, however, accidents in the way of capsize seldom occur.
The island of Singapore is twenty-five miles long and fifteen in breadth, containing an area of two hundred and seventy five square miles, with a diversified surface of hills and valleys. The coast is low and covered with mangroves, with here and there a salt creek running into the interior, and creating marshes by the banks being overflown.
We completed our preparations for the passage to Hong Kong in the course of six days, by working day and night, through rain and sunshine; and sailed on the 4th of May, 1858, having the cheering hope in our hearts of soon being placed in possession of that greatest of all pleasures while abroad -- letters from home!
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