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To England by HMS Troop Ships

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Date: 2 Apr 1868
Location: England - Indiamap
Surnames/tags: Emmigration India Troop_Ship
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TO ENGLAND BY H. M. S. TROOP SHIPS

(From Our Own Correspondent.)

Portsmouth, 14 January, 1868.

EARLY in the afternoon of the day on which we left Alexandria, we met the Serapis outward bound and having on board troops of the Royal artillery. This vessel like the Crocodile is painted black, with only a narrow white streak along her side to relieve the otherwise sombre colour. The effect of this is to give those ships the appearance of being smaller in size than they really are. No doubt the cream colour with which the three troopships on the Indian side of the isthmus are painted is both unnecessary and unsuited to the climate to the westward; yet so speedily does the eye become accustomed to it that we could not avoid contrasting the black coffin appearance of the Crocodile and Seraphis, with the lighter looking vessels from which we had just parted company.

The weather from Alexandria till our arrival at Malta, continued cold and boisterous. Our very thickest clothes were in requisition; and by their means, and by active exercise on deck, we managed so far to defy the elements. Now for the first time for some years we experienced that peculiarly exhilarating glow which follows indulgence in a smart walk; and most of us remarked to each other how little really the cold of the Mediterranean affected us in comparison with that of India, which pierces through but seems to lack any bracing influence. During the few days occupied in this portion of our passage we experienced some what of the disadvantages which attend a system of ventilation, specially meant, and extremely well adapted for hot climates. It will scarcely he credited, yet it is fact, that no difference exists in the arrangements in this respect between the ships employed during winter in the English Channel and Mediterranean, and those for the Red Sea; and what is perhaps no less strange, is the circumstances that permission was refused to Doctor Edmunds, whose plan of ventilation is adopted, to superintend the fitting up of his arrangements. Plans were, it is said, submitted by him, but the Admiralty declined to employ himself. To have done so would have involved the monstrous sum of five shillings per day; that being the difference between his half and full pay.

As we steamed along, the Indian Troopships as an Institution naturally became subject of conversation as they had done on previous occasions. It was on board the Crocodile that the 7th Dragoon Guards had recently returned to England, and already we heard reports of deaths having occurred among the men of that regiment from exposure to cold, and unsuitable accommodation. With reference to this, and the general question of bringing regiments home from India, the report was mentioned that a plan is in contemplation for retaining them at Malta or Gibraltar until summer shall have set in in England. Such a plan might be all very well were health alone to be considered; but unfortunately both soldiers and officers have pockets as well as constitution, whose interests ought to be, if they are not, taken into account. To detain a regiment at either place for only a few months, and then take them to England, would only be to needlessly increase discomfort and expense, to which there is every reason to believe they are already subjected much more frequently than need be. Let us therefore, hope for the sake of all concerned that the plan, if really contemplated, will be at once abandoned.

On the forenoon Of New Year's Day 1868 we steamed into the grand harbour of Malta, and we were of course struck with wonder and administration, as many ethers have been, at the extraordinary strength of the fortifications. Tiers of batteries guarded either side; the strangely crowded houses of Valetta and the picturesque fort of Saint Angelo stood, the one on our right hand, the other on our left; and in the harbour itself, among several other ships of war, lay the Lord Warden and Lord Clyde, probably the two most powerful vessels in the present fleet of England. We had determined to go on shore as speedily as possible with the usual object of visitors to this island, namely to visit the Church of Saint John, the Armoury and the Tapestry Chamber; and to spend money in the purchase of coral, lava, mosaic and filigree jewellery, and in the lace which although made at Gozo obtains the name of Maltese. So many descriptions of excursions for these purposes are already in print, that it is scarcely necessary to add to them. Suffice it to observe that in all respects did the various classes who went on shore from the Crocodile comport themselves and "bleed," as do their representatives on board "P. and O." ships, and indeed as the majority had previously done under similar circumstances. With us, however, there was on the present occasion this little peculiarity, that being now under the Admiralty pennant the sanction of the officer in command of the ship was necessary before going on shore. Nor was this all. Just as we entered the harbour the Hearty tender brought on board the harbour master, and with a circular bearing date 1864, in which it was directed that no officer or soldier was to leave tine ship until the officer in command of the troops had first reported himself personally and submitted a nominal list of the former to the Governor. On the present occasion, however, this order was so far rendered a formality that an officer arrived on board with sanction from His Excellency almost before time ship had been moored, and thus all who wished to do so went at once on shore.

The greater number of the shops in Valetta were crowded. The churches were open; as were the drinking shops. Multitudes of men, women and children paraded the streets, all on pleasure bent, for all were making holiday. Of our party the greater number got on board to dinner ; others went to the Opera, where was performed, to give it its full title, "Aroldo" in four parts; one short extract from the opening scene of which must here suffice. According to the libretto the plot is laid in a harbor in Egberto's house (in Kent;) a great window in the middle, out of which the battlements of the castle are seen; a table, chairs, &c.

The room is void. Singing to the right however indicates the end of a feast.

Here a chorus opens, of which let the translation given below be commended to the Bengalee Baboo, bearing in mind that it is taken verbally from the play itself "as done into English" in Malta.

"Chorus.

Let us feel! to unusual joy Every heart is opened! Honor to prode Aroldo, In returning from Palestine For him the kenth Shiner Star glittered— Till centuries Will endure His name eternised."

and so on.

The very unpleasant operation of taking in coals having been completed, all arrangements were made for our ship to resume her voyage at 2 o'clock on the afternoon of the 2nd January, and punctual to that hour she started. But while the moorings were being unshackled, an incident was taking place on board which deserves to he mentioned. An old soldier, who on completing his full period of service had taken his pension to remain in India, and afterwards changed his mind and expressed a desire to return to his native country, was by the kindness of the embarking officers at Calcutta permitted to have a free passage thence in the Euphrates, and afterwards in the Crocodile. This man with some non-commissioned officers went on shore at Malta, and on returning to the ship was detected in the act of smuggling spirits on board. His offence, grave in itself, was aggravated by his behaviour when detected. He was no soldier, he said, but a civilian, and as such defied discipline, he would do as he liked. Just as we were preparing to start he was brought before the Captain of the Crocodile, to whom he repeated these views of his own position, and without any expression of regret or contrition for the irregularity of which he had been guilty. But he was evidently unprepared for the result. "Do as you like," said the captain, "so can I do as I like, and you shall go on shore." The order was instantly given, and while the Crocodile turned her head out of harbour, the man, his wife, child, and part of his "kit" were sent down the side, and pulled away under the charge of a port constable. The greater part of the man's baggage being stowed away in the hold, could not at the time be got at. It must therefore be taken on to Portsmouth.

For two days after leaving Malta the unfavourable state of the weather that has been already mentioned still continued. At the end of that time, however, it abated, and as we approached the Straits of Gibraltar, instead of the cold which we had anticipated, the tempurature of the air was 64 deg., a gentle breeze prevailed, and the sky overhead was clear, with here and there a few light fleecy “mackarel back" clouds. On the 6th January we had an excellent view of the Sierra Nevada range, upwards of eleven thousand feet in height. Their summits were covered with perpetual snow, and it was interesting to observe the distinctiveness with which its lowest limit is marked. It is as if it extended along the face of these magnificent mountains in a straight line. During the early part of the night we passed Gibraltar. As we entered the Atlantic a smart breeze with heavy rain gave us a greeting. Towards morning, however, the weather again improved, and when off the gulf of Cadiz we were able to enjoy our forenoon walk on deck, without great coats or extra wraps.

No allusion has hitherto been made in these notes to the sailors by whom the Troopships are manned. All of them belong to the Royal Navy, and are probably fair enough representatives of their class. One would wonder by what exercise of ingenuity they are able to “commit themselves" on board, so as to deserve the punishments that seem daily to be necessary on board the Euphrates and Crocodile. Of the particular offence committed we of course know nothing, nor do we desire to be informed; they are trifling in their nature if we are to judge by their punishments, some of which strike a landsman as more absurd than severe. Thus we sometimes observe one or more of these "tars" placed on the poop, where for hours they have to stand, facing outwards. On other occasions, and these usually in the evening watch, a man who may probably have indulged in an unseasonable snooze is made to stand during the whole four hours with his hammock on his shoulder, instead, probably, of comfortably swinging in it. A third kind of punishment consists in suspending a wetted piece of sail cloth, like a flag, to a boat hook, and making the culprit walk up and down the deck with it over his shoulder a la Excelsior, till it dries. Such punishments, inflicted upon full grown men, who may at any time be called upon to meet an enemy, seem childish and absurd; doubtless, however, they serve their purpose, for may it not be that Neptune's sons of the present day "are but children of a larger growth."

From punishments to books, the transition is by no means natural; yet as the excellent libraries provided on board these ships for the use of the troops deserve to be mentioned approvingly, it is as well to do so in this place as any other. There are on board these vessels two libraries; one for the officers and sailors, the other for the military. The latter contains seven hundred volumes, consisting of works in history, travel, biography, and natural history, together with novels, and light reading of different kinds. All have evidently been selected with great care, and no better proof is needed of the extent to which they are appreciated than the simple fact that upwards of four hundred of them are constantly "out." This speaks well for the desire to learn which exists among the ranks of our army, and is an encouragement to those whose attention is directed towards the soldiers' improvement.

On the morning of the 9th of January we passed Cape Finisterre and entered the Bay of Biscay, locality associated in the minds of all with terrific storms and foul weather. On the present occasion there was scarcely a breeze sufficient to ripple the surface of the sea. What, little there was came towards us from the westward, and brought with it a thick fog, doubtless produced by evaporation front the Gulf stream. So dense is this fog that a bugler was stationed on the forecastle, whose duty it was to repeat a call every five minutes, as a warning to vessels who may be in our way to get out of that. One would naturally suppose that on board a steamer the steam whistle would most conveniently be used for the purpose of warning other vessels of our proximity; and that the sound of it would be audible at a much greater distance than that of an Infantry bugle. Such however was evidently not the view entertained on those matters on board the Crocodile.

Up to the present time we have had little of that degree of cold to which we may expect to be subjected a few days hence. Indeed the weather has about it a degree of warmth that is by no means agreeable to the sensations; and is perhaps best described as "being heavy and oppressive." Its effect upon officers and men is remarked by the greater number of us; and the considerable sick list among the troops of seventeen in hospital and thirty-three treated out of it, indicates the extent to which they are influenced thereby. It may be important or interesting to "old Indians" to know that although there is really no illness of consequence on board, there are many among us who suffer more or less from returns of complaints to which we were subject in Bengal ; these being agues, "liver" and disorders of the intestines and rheumatism. Luckily no epidemic sickness has occurred among us; the child who suffered at Suez from what was believed to have been measles is rapidly recovering; the disease, whether real or spurious has not extended, and at present we have the prospect of arriving in England, stronger as regards mere numbers than when we embarked at Calcutta.

The short interval of a day effected a very great change in our conditions as regards climate. On the afternoon of the 10th we had sighted Ushant, and the foggy weather continuing we got rather too near to that cape to be agreeable. Here the wind veered round more from the northward; the temperature went down to 45", and for the first time stoves were taken into use in the saloon. The morning of the 11th found us running along the coast of Dorsetshire. In the forenoon we were off the Isle of Wight; the continued haziness of the weather rendering it necessary that we should take the outside passage. The fields presented the unusual spectacle of being thickly covered by snow; a strong wind and sleet rendered the prospect still more cheerless, and altogether, our first glimpse of England was by no means cheerful. It was amusing to listen to some of the younger officers, as they applied the phraseology of India to the conditions that appeared before them. England they as matter of course called Europe; native huts and bustees imbedded in jungle were said to line the southern side of the island; the fields, divided as they were by regular lines of hedges, were looked upon as khaits; some degree of credit being awarded to both ryots and Zemindars for the good order in which they evidently were. Meantime we were rapidly approaching Spithead, where the Crocodile had to stop her engines for a short time, while an Admiralty pilot came out to us. No time was lost by him in endless ceremony. He proceeded direct to the "bridge." Inward we went, and at 3 P. M., got alongside the jetty from which on the 13th the troops will disembark, exactly two calendar months from the day they went on board the Euphrates at Calcutta. Thus our voyage is over, and we are once more in old England, and consequently, once again in our native land; and may you who publish these remarks, and your subscribers who read them, be all in due time permitted to enjoy the same happiness in your return that we now do.

C. A .G

Published by The Friend of India, Calcutta 2 Apr 1868





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