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Commanding situation of Aden—Its importance in former times—But few remains of its grandeur—Its facilities as a retreat for the piratical hordes of the Desert—The loss of its trade followed by reduction of the population—Speculations as to the probability of ultimately resisting the Arabs—Exaggerated notions entertained by the Shiekhs of the wealth of the British—Aden a free Port would be the Queen of the adjacent Seas—Its advantages over Mocha—The Inhabitants of Aden—The Jews—The Banians—The Soomalees—The Arabs—Hopes of the prosperity of Aden—Goods in request there—Exports—Re-embarkation on the Steamer—Want of attention—Makallah—Description of the place—Its products—The Gazelle—Traveller in Abyssinia—Adventurous English Travellers—Attractions of the Arab life—Arrival at Bombay.
Wretched and miserable as the appearance of Aden must be deemed at the present moment, its commanding situation rendered it of great importance in former times. During the reign of Constantine, it was an opulent city, forming one of the great emporia for the commerce of the East. The sole remains of the grandeur it once boasted consists of about ninety dilapidated stone houses, the greater number of dwellings which seem to shelter its scanty population being nothing more than huts rudely constructed of reeds. These wretched tenements, huddled together without the slightest attempt at regularity, occupy the crater of an extinct volcano. Unrelieved by trees, and assimilating in colour with the arid soil and barren hills rising around, they scarcely convey an idea of the purpose for which they are designed.
A stranger, entering Aden, finds it difficult to believe that he is in the midst of an inhabited place, the houses appearing to be fewer in number, and more insignificant, than a closer inspection proves them to be. No splendid fragment, imposing in its ruin, records the glory and opulence of the populous city, as it existed in the days of Solyman the Magnificent, the era from whence it dates its decline. The possession of Aden was eagerly contended for by the two great powers, the Turks and the Portuguese, struggling for mastery in the East, and when they were no longer able to maintain their rivalry, it reverted into the hands of its ancient masters, the Arabs. The security afforded by its natural defences, aided by the fortifications, the work of former times, rendered it a suitable retreat for the piratical hordes of the desert. The lawless sons of Ishmael could, from this stronghold, rush out upon the adjacent waters, and make themselves masters of the wealth of those adventurers who dared to encounter the dangers of the Red Sea.
With the loss of every thing approaching to good government, Aden lost its trade. The system of monopoly, which enriches the sovereign at the expense of the subject, speedily ends in ruin. The superior classes of the inhabitants were either driven away, in consequence of the tyranny which they endured, or, reduced to a state of destitution, perished miserably upon the soil, until at length the traces of former magnificence became few and faint, the once flourishing city falling into one wide waste of desolation. The remains of a splendid aqueduct, which was at the first survey mistaken for a Roman road; a solitary watch-tower, and a series of broken walls, alone attest the ancient glories of the place.
Previous to the occupation of the British, the population of Aden scarcely exceeded six hundred souls; it is now, independently of the garrison, more nearly approaching to a thousand, and of these the principal number are Jews, who, together with about fifty Banians, have contrived to amass a little of what, by comparison, may be called wealth. The trade of Aden, for a long time before we obtained our present possession, was very trifling, the imports consisting of a few English cotton cloths, together with lead, iron, and tin, which were brought by Buglas on their way to Mocha; rice, dates, and small numbers of cattle, likewise, coming from neighbouring places; while the exports were limited to a little coffee, millet, and a few drugs.
At the period of my visit to Aden, the garrison were in almost momentary expectation of an attack from the Arabs, who had gathered to the amount of five thousand in the neighbourhood, and kept the new occupants continually upon the alert. Of course, in such a state of affairs, great differences of opinion existed respecting the ultimate fate of this interesting place. Many acute persons consider the project of colonizing a barren spot, surrounded by hostile tribes, by a handful of soldiers from India, chimerical, especially in the teeth of predictions which have for so long a period been fulfilled to the letter. It is stated that the Imaum of Muscat asked, in astonishment, whether we were mad enough to contemplate the subjugation of the Arabs, the sons of his father Ishmael; since we could not be so ignorant of our own Scriptures as not to know that their hands were to be eternally against every man, and every man's hand against theirs. But, although the Arabs should continue hostile, while we are masters of the sea, and can strengthen Aden so completely upon the land-side, as to render it, what many people believe it can be made, a second Gibraltar, we have a wide field for commercial speculation in the opposite coast of Africa.
Aden is, at present, a very expensive possession, and the long period which has elapsed since our occupation, without preparations having been commenced for a permanent residence, has occasioned an apprehension that it may be ultimately abandoned. Many persons are, however, sanguine in the hope that, as soon as scientific men have decided upon the best site for a cantonment, buildings will be erected for the reception of the garrison. These, it is confidently expected, will be upon a grand scale, and of solid construction. The greater portion of the materials must be brought from distant places, and already some of the European inhabitants are conveying from Bombay those portable houses which are commonly set up during the cold season on the Esplanade, and which will afford a great improvement upon the dwellings of bamboos, reeds, and mats, which at present form the abodes of the officers of this establishment. It has been satisfactorily ascertained, that the clearing out and repairing the old tanks and wells will be sufficient to secure an ample supply of water for a very extensive population, the report of those gentlemen employed in analyzing its quality being highly favourable.
A little allowance must, of course, be made for the sanguine nature of the expectations formed by persons whose imaginations are dazzled by the splendid visions of the future arising before them; still, enough appears to have been demonstrated to justify a strong hope that there are no serious difficulties in the way of our permanent occupation of a place which we have succeeded in rescuing from Arab tyranny. It will be long, perhaps, before the neighbouring sheikhs will consent to an amicable arrangement with the British authorities of Aden, for they at present entertain the most exaggerated notions of the wealth of its new possessors.
The English, with their usual thoughtless improvidence, threw about their money so carelessly, that, soon after their arrival, every article of household consumption doubled and trebled in price, the remuneration for labour rising in proportion. This improvident expenditure has had the effect of making the people discontented. Imagining our resources to be inexhaustible, they do not know how much to ask for their commodities or their services, and it will require great firmness and discretion, on the part of the persons in authority, to settle the fair price for both. The erection of new houses, which are called for by nearly every fresh arrival, even in their present light construction, serves very materially to enrich the inhabitants of Aden, the natural consequence being an increase of the industrious portion of the population, while it may be confidently expected that the commencement of superior works will attract a superior class of persons to the place.
The present Resident is a strenuous advocate for the abolition of all duties, at least for a time; and should the representations made by him, and other persons well acquainted with the character and resources of the surrounding countries, succeed in inducing the Government of India to render Aden a free port, it would soon become the queen of the adjacent seas. The town of Senna is only at the distance of seven or eight days' journey for camels and merchandize. The coffee districts are actually nearer to it than to Mocha, and the road equally safe and convenient; other large towns in Yemen are within an easy journey, and the rich and populous places in the province of Hydramut are open for its trade.
The mountains to the north of Aden produce gums, frankincense, and coffee, which would soon find their way to so promising a market. Its harbour being immediately to the north of Barbar, vessels during the north-eastern monsoon would reach it with the produce of Africa in twenty-four hours, returning with British and Indian produce in the same time. All the exports of Hanall, and other large interior towns on the opposite coast, consisting of coffee, gums, myrrh, hides, elephants' teeth, gold dust, ostrich feathers, &c, would be conveyed to Aden, to be exchanged for piece goods, chintzes, cutlery, and rice; all of which would find a ready market. The manufactures of India and of Great Britain would thus be very extensively introduced, there being good reason to believe that they would be largely purchased in the provinces of Yemen and Hydramut.
Amongst the great advantages which Aden possesses over Mocha, is the situation of its harbour, which may be entered by a ship or boat at any period of the year, and quitted with the same facility: whereas its rival port is so difficult of access in the months of March, April, and May, that boats are sometimes six, seven, or eight days getting to the straits, a distance of forty miles only. These are considerations worthy of the attention of merchants, the length of the voyage not being the sole source of annoyance, since vessels taking cargoes at Aden save the great wear and tear occasioned in their return down the Red Sea.
Perhaps, considering the difficulty of conciliating the semi-barbarous tribes in the neighbourhood, the trade and population of Aden have increased as much as we could reasonably hope; but when peace shall at length be established, it will doubtless attract merchants and Banians from Surat, as well as all other adjacent places. If at this moment our expectations have not been completely answered, we have at least the satisfaction of knowing that, besides having saved the Red Sea from the encroachments of the Pasha of Egypt, we have anticipated a rival power, which has already derived greater advantage from our supineness, with regard to our Eastern possessions, than is desirable.
The Americans, during 1833-4-5, had a small squadron looking all about for a spot which they could turn to good account. Socotra, from its convenient position between Africa and Arabia, proved a point of attraction, and had not Capt. Haines, of the Indian Navy, promptly taken possession, in the name of Great Britain, they would in all probability have succeeded in effecting a settlement. With their usual attention to the interests of their commerce, the Americans have a resident permanently stationed at Zanzibar, and have made advantageous arrangements with the Imaum of Muscat, whereby the trade with the United States has greatly increased; American ships are constantly arriving, with piece-goods, glass-ware, &c, and returning with profitable cargoes, the produce of Africa.
The inhabitants of Aden appear to be a peaceable race, generally well affected to the government, from which they cannot fail to derive advantage. The Jews, as I have before mentioned, are the most important, both in consequence of their number and of their superior wealth; they belong to the tribe of Judah, and are very industrious, being the manufacturers of the place.
It is by the Jews and their families, the females assisting, that a coarse kind of cloth, employed for their own garments, and also sold to strangers, is spun and woven. This cloth is in much esteem amongst the Arabs: when prepared for them, it is dyed blue, sometimes ornamented with red borders, indigo being employed, together with extracts from other plants. The women generally wear a single loose garment, covering the head with a handkerchief when they leave the house; they do not, however, conceal their faces. Previous to the occupation of Aden, the Jewesses were remarkable for the propriety of their manners, but as they are esteemed handsome, and moreover attract by their good temper and intelligence, it is to be feared that they will meet with many temptations to depart from the decorum they have hitherto maintained. Like their sex and peculiar race, they are fond of ornaments, adorning themselves with large silver ear-rings, bracelets, necklaces, and armlets. Hitherto, whatever wealth they possessed, they were obliged to conceal, the Arabs proving very severe and oppressive masters; their prospects are now brightening, and they have already shown a disposition to profit by the new order of things, having opened shops in the bazaar, and commenced trading in a way they never ventured upon before.
Nor is it in spinning and weaving alone that the Jews of Aden excel; artizans in silver and copper are to be found amongst them, together with stone-cutters, and other handicrafts-men. They have a school for the education of their male youth, the females not having yet enjoyed this advantage, in consequence of the intolerance of the Arabs, who view with prejudiced eyes every attempt to emancipate women from the condition to which they have been so long reduced.
The means of instruction possessed by the Jews of Aden are not very extensive, a few printed Bibles and MS. extracts forming the whole of their literature. It has been thought that missionaries would here find a fair field for their exertions; but, unfortunately, the most promising places in the East are, by some mistake, either of ignorance or ambition, left wholly destitute of Christian teachers. While the pledges of Government are compromised in India, and its stability threatened, by the daring attempts to make converts at the presidencies, and other considerable places, where success is attended with great noise and clamour, many portions of the Company's territories, in which much quiet good might be effected, are left entirely without religious aid.
The Banians, though small in number, rank next to the Jews in importance, and are, perhaps, more wealthy; they are not, however, so completely identified with the soil, for they do not bring their families with them when emigrating to Aden from the places of their birth. The greater number come from Cutch, arriving at an early period of life, and with the craft that usually distinguishes them, studying the character of the Arabs, and making the most of it. They are not esteemed such good subjects to the new government as the Jews, their expectations of benefit from a change of masters, in consequence of their having proved the chief gainers heretofore, being less sanguine.
The Soomalees are natives of Barbora, and are in number about two hundred. They employ themselves in making baskets, mats, and fans, from the leaves of a species of palm-tree; they are not so active and industrious as the Jews, but the younger portion, if brought up in European families, might, with the advantage of good tuition, become useful as servants and labourers. They are Mohamedans, but not very strict, either in their religious or moral principles, violating oaths sworn upon the Koran, and cheating and thieving whenever they can. The love of money, however, is a strong stimulus to improvement, and where it exists, or can be created, the case is far more hopeful than when the wants and desires are both limited. The Soomalee women are reckoned handsome, though in that respect they cannot compare with the Jewesses, their complexions being much darker and their hair coarse; they have tall, well-proportioned figures, and are as attentive to their dress and appearance as their poverty will admit. The Arabs are the least prepossessing of all the inhabitants of Aden, and it will be long before any confidence can be placed in them. They religiously conceal their women, and are a bigoted, prejudiced race, disaffected of course to the new government, and shy of intercourse with the British occupants.
That the hopes entertained of the prosperity of Aden have not been more speedily realized, may be attributed to the prevalent belief that its new masters could not maintain their ground against the hostile Arabs of the neighbourhood. It is the opinion of a competent judge, that, "as soon as the inhabitants of distant countries feel convinced that our occupation of Aden is intended to be a permanent, and not a temporary measure, they will establish agencies there under our flag, in preference to any other, and open an extensive traffic." The same authority states that "it is the opinion of the Banians and Arabs, that Aden will regain her former commercial renown."
With respect to the goods at present in requisition, or likely to meet a sale, at Aden, we learn from the report above quoted, that "of the manufactures of Europe, coloured handkerchiefs and hardware are only in demand, though longcloths are procurable and are sometimes purchased by the Arabs; but these articles are priced so high, as to prevent any great consumption of them. From what I observed of the Arab disposition and taste, I certainly believe that coloured cotton goods of fast colours, and of patterns similar to those elsewhere specified, if offered at rates somewhat reasonable, would in a very short period meet with an extensive sale, and be rapidly introduced into common use amongst the Arabs of the interior. The novelty of the experiment would at first induce the Arabs to become purchasers, when, finding the articles good, it is but reasonable to anticipate an extensive demand. The colours should be particularly attended to, for the certainty of obtaining goods of fast colours would alone ensure the articles in question a speedy sale. The handkerchiefs that have already been introduced into Aden are of the worst sort relative to colour, generally becoming after two or three washings white, or nearly so; thus it cannot be wondered at if these goods meet with but a poor demand."
The ravages committed by the army of the Pasha of Egypt, in the fertile districts of the neighbourhood of Aden, have been prejudicial to the interests of the new settlement, and perhaps so long as the hope of plunder can be entertained by the petty princes, who rule the adjacent districts, they will be unwilling to wait for the slower advantages derivable from commerce. The apparently reckless expenditure of the British residents, and the princely pay given to the soldiers of the garrison, have offered so dazzling a prospect of gain, that they (the native chiefs) will have some difficulty in abandoning the hope of making themselves masters, at a single blow, of all the treasure brought to their shores. It is said that some Turks, deserters from Mehemet Ali, who took refuge in Aden, upon being made acquainted with the amount of pay given to the British troops, and the regularity with which it was issued, exclaimed, "God is great, and the English are immortal!"
During the proper seasons, Aden is well supplied with fruit; its trade in honey and wax might become very important, the adjacent countries yielding abundance of both, and of so fine a quality, as to compete with the produce of the hives of the Mediterranean. Drugs are procurable in equal abundance, together with perfumes and spices. The European inhabitants are, of course, compelled to send to Bombay for those luxuries which habit has rendered necessary; the constant communication with the presidency renders them easily procurable, while the intercourse with India and England, by means of the steamers, relieves the monotony which would otherwise be severely felt.
I could have spent two or three days with great pleasure at Aden, inquiring into its early history, present condition, and future prospects, and regretted much when a summons reached me to depart. We entertained a hope that the steamer would come round and take us off at the northern point; however, we were obliged to return the way we came. There are, and have been since its occupation, several English ladies living at Aden, but whether they have not shown themselves sufficiently often to render their appearance familiar, or the curiosity of the people is not easily satisfied, I cannot say; but I found myself an object of great attention to the women and children.
The sun having declined, the whole of the population of Aden seemed to be abroad, and many well-dressed and good-looking women were seated on the rude steps and broken walls of the stone houses before-mentioned. As they saw me smiling upon them, they drew nearer, salaamed, and laughed in return, and appeared to examine my dress as closely as the open doors of the palanquin would permit. Some of the very little children turned away in horror from a white face, but the greater number seemed much pleased with the notice taken of them. While waiting a few minutes for my party, my bearers wanted to drive them away, but this I would not permit, and we carried on a very amicable intercourse by signs, both being apparently mutually delighted with each other. Their vivacity and good-humour made a favourable impression upon my mind, and I should like to have an opportunity of becoming better acquainted with them, feeling strongly tempted to proceed to Aden on my return to England in a sailing vessel, and await there the arrival of a steamer to convey me up the Red Sea to Cosseir or to Suez.
I was offered a present of a milch-goat at Aden, but not being able to consult with the captain of the Berenice concerning its introduction on board, I did not like to allow the poor creature to run any risk of neglect. Its productiveness would soon have diminished on board a steamer, and it was so useful in a place like Aden, that I could not feel justified in taking it away for my own gratification. I obtained, however, a bottle of milk, and when I got on board, having dined early, and being moreover exhausted with my journey, as I was only recovering from an attack of fever, I wished to have some tea. This was too great an indulgence to be granted by the petty authorities who ruled over the passengers. Unfortunately, upon leaving Suez, I had given away all my tea to my servant, Mohammed, who was fond of it, nothing doubting that I should be able to procure as much as I pleased on board the steamer. The refusal was the more provoking, as there was plenty of boiling water ready, and I had humbly limited my request to a spoonful of tea. Under the circumstances, I was obliged to content myself with milk and water: had the captain or the surgeon of the vessel been at hand, I should doubtless have been supplied with every thing I wanted, but in their absence, it was impossible to procure a single article. Upon one occasion, while tea was serving, a passenger in the saloon asked for a cup, and was told to go upon deck for it.
I also procured a supply of soda water at Aden. I had suffered much from the want of this refreshing beverage during my fever, the supply taken on board having been exhausted on the voyage up. The passengers down the Red Sea have the disadvantage of sailing with exhausted stores. It seems hardly fair to them, especially in cases of illness, that the whole of any particular article should be given to the people who embark at Bombay, they having a right to expect that, as they pay the same price, a portion should be reserved for their use.
On the second day after our departure from Aden—that is, the 22nd of October—we arrived at Makallah. It was mid-day before the vessel ceased to ply her engines, and though invited to go on shore, as we could not penetrate beyond the walls of the town, we thought it useless to exchange our cabins for a hot room in the mansion of its ruler. The town of Makallah, which forms the principal commercial depot of the south-west of Arabia, is built upon a rocky platform of some length, but of very inconsiderable width, backed by a perfect wall of cliffs, and bounded in front by the sea. It seems tolerably well built for an Arabian town, many of the houses being of a very respectable appearance, two or more stories in height, and ornamented with small turrets and cupolas: the nakib, or governor's residence, is large, with a high square tower, which gives it the air of a citadel.
There is not a tree or shrub to be seen, the absence of vegetation investing the place with a character of its own, and one that harmonizes with the bold and bare rocks which bound the coast on either side. We were told that, between two ranges of hills close to the entrance of the town, a beautiful green valley occurred, watered by delicious springs, and shaded by date-trees. Had we arrived at an early period of the morning, we might have spent the day on this delightful place, proceeding to it on the backs of camels or donkeys, or even on foot; but it being impossible to get thither while the sun was in full power, we were obliged to content ourselves with a description of its beauties.
Although a very good understanding exists between our Government and that of Makallah, which has for some time been a depot of coal for the use of the steamers, it is not advisable for visitors to proceed very far from the town without protection. A midshipman belonging to the Indian navy having gone on shore for the purpose of visiting the valley before-mentioned, and straying away to some distance, attracted by the beauty of the scenery, was suddenly surrounded by a party of Bedouins, who robbed him of all he possessed, cutting off the buttons from his clothes, under the idea that they were of gold—an impression which obtains all over the coast, and which inspired the people who made the last assault upon Aden with the hope of a rich booty.
The population of Makallah is estimated at about 4,600 people, of various tribes and countries, the chief portion being either of the Beni Hassan and Yafai tribes, together with Banians, Kurachies, and emigrants from nearly all parts of the adjacent coasts. It carries on rather a considerable trade in gums, hides, and drugs, which, with coffee, form the exports, receiving in return iron, lead, manufactured cloths, earthenware, and rice, from Bombay, and all the productions of the neighbouring countries, slaves included, in which the traffic is said to be very great.
The gentlemen who went on shore purchased very pretty and convenient baskets, wrought in various colours, and also quantities of sweetmeats, which are much in esteem in India; these are composed of honey and flour, delicately made, the honey being converted into a soft kind of paste, with a coating of the flour on the outside. These sweetmeats were nicely packed in straw baskets, of a different manufacture from those before-mentioned, and were very superior to the common sort which is brought from the coast in small coarse earthenware basins, exceedingly unattractive in their appearance.
The interior of the country is said to be very beautiful, abundantly watered by refreshing springs, and shaded by groves of date-trees. Amongst its animal productions, the most beautiful is the gazelle, which, properly speaking, is only to be found in Arabia; a delicate and lovely creature, with the soft black eye which has been from time immemorial the theme of poets. The gazelle is easily tamed, becoming in a short time very familiar, and being much more gentle, as well as more graceful, than the common antelope. Its movements are the most airy and elegant imaginable. It is fond of describing a circle in a succession of bounds, jumping off the ground on four legs, and touching it lightly as it wheels round and round. At other times, it pirouettes upon the two fore feet, springing round at the same time like an opera-dancer; in fact, it would appear as if Taglioni, and all our most celebrated artistes, had taken lessons from the gazelle, so much do their chefs-d'oeuvre resemble its graceful motions. When domesticated, the gazelle loves to feed upon roses, delighting apparently in the scent as well as the taste. It is the fashion in the East to add perfume to the violet, and I found these gazelles would eat with much zest roses that had been plentifully sprinkled with their extract, the goolabee paanee, so greatly in request. The gazelle is also very fond of crisply-toasted bread, a taste which must be acquired in domestication. It is a courageous animal, and will come readily to the assault, butting fiercely when attacked. In taking a gazelle away from Arabia, it should be carefully guarded against cold and damp, and if not provided with water-proof covering to its feet, would soon die if exposed to the wet decks of a ship.
We had lost at Aden our fellow-passenger, whom I have mentioned as having assumed the Turkish dress for the purpose of penetrating into the interior of Abyssinia. He depended, in a great measure, for comfort and safety, upon two native priests, whom he had brought with him from Cairo, and who, in return for his liberality, had promised all the protection and assistance in their power. He left us with the good wishes of all the party, and not without some fears in the breasts of those who contemplated the hazards which he ran. Young and good-looking, he had, with pardonable, but perhaps dangerous, vanity, studied the becoming in his costume, which was composed of the very finest materials. His long outer garment, of a delicate woollen texture, was lined throughout with silk, and the crimson cap, which he wore upon his head, was converted into a turban by a piece of gold muslin wound round it. He expected nothing less than to be plundered and stripped of this fine apparel, and it will be well for him should he escape with life. The adventure and the romance of the undertaking possessed great charms, and he talked, after spending some years in a wild and wandering career, of sitting down quietly in his paternal halls, introducing as many of the Egyptian customs as would be tolerated in a Christian country.
A short residence in Cairo proves very captivating to many Englishmen; they like the independent sort of life which they lead; their perfect freedom from all the thralls imposed by society at home, and, when tired of dreaming away existence after the indolent fashion of the East, plunge into the surrounding deserts, and enjoy all the excitement attendant upon danger. Numerous anecdotes were related to me of the hardships sustained by young English travellers, who, led by the spirit of adventure, had trusted themselves to the Bedouins, and, though escaping with life, had suffered very severely from hunger, thirst, and fatigue. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of one of these enterprising tourists, who assured me that he had passed through the holy city of Mecca. According to his account, he had made friends with an Arab boy, who offered to afford him a glimpse of the city, provided he would consent to pass rapidly through it, at an early hour in the morning. Accordingly, disguised in Mohamedan garb, and mounted upon a camel, they entered and quitted it at opposite ends, without exciting curiosity or remark. Of course, he could see nothing but the exterior of the houses and mosques, only obtaining a partial view of these; but, considering the difficulty and peril of the undertaking, the pleasure of being able to say that he had succeeded in an achievement which few would be daring enough to attempt, was worth running some risks.
Notwithstanding the intolerant spirit generally manifested by the Arabs, those English strangers who embrace their way of life for a time frequently attach them very strongly to their persons, obtaining concessions from them which could scarcely be expected from a people so bigoted in their religious opinions, and entertaining so contemptible an opinion of those who are followers of other creeds. In spite of the faults of his character—for he is frequently deceitful, treacherous, cruel, and covetous—the Arab of the desert is usually much respected by the dwellers in towns. His independent spirit is admired by those who could not exist without the comforts and conveniences of life, which he disdains. It is no uncommon sight, either at Cairo or Alexandria, to see a handsome young Bedouin, splendidly attired, lodging in the open street by the side of his camel, for nothing will persuade him to sleep in a house; he carries the habits of the desert into the city, and in the midst of congregated thousands, dwells apart.
We, who merely crossed the desert from Cairo to Suez, could form little idea of the pleasures which a longer sojourn and more extended researches would afford—the poetry of the life which the Arab leads. Nothing, I was told, could exceed the enjoyments of the night, when, after a day of burning heat, the cool breezes came down from elevated valleys, occurring between the ranges of hills which I had observed with so much interest. This balmy air brings with it perfumes wafted from sweet-scented flowers, which spring spontaneously in the green spots known to the gazelle, who repairs to them to drink. Although the dews are heavy, the Arab requires no more protection than that afforded by his blanket, and he lies down under the most glorious canopy, the broad vault of heaven with its countless spangles, no artificial object intervening throughout the large circle of that wide horizon. Here, his ablutions, prayers, and evening-meal concluded, he either sinks into profound repose, or listens to the tales of his companions, of daring deeds and battles long ago, or the equally interesting though less exciting narratives of passing events; some love-story between persons of hostile tribes, or the affection of a betrothed girl for a stranger, and its melancholy consequences.
Notwithstanding the slight estimation in which the sex is held by the fierce and jealous Arab—jealous more from self-love than from any regard to the object that creates this feeling—there is still much of the romantic to be found in his domestic history. English travellers, who have acquired a competent knowledge of the language, may collect materials for poems as tragical and touching as those which Lord Byron loved to weave. I could relate several in this place, picked up by my fellow-travellers, but as they may at some period or other desire to give them to the public themselves, it would be scarcely fair to anticipate their intention.
We now began to look out with some anxiety for the arrival of the steamer at Bombay, speculating upon the chances of finding friends able to receive us. As we drew nearer and nearer, the recollection of the good hotels which had opened their hospitable doors for us in the most unpromising places, caused us to lament over the absence of similar establishments at the scene of our destination. Bombay has been aptly denominated the landing-place of India; numbers of persons who have no acquaintance upon the island pass through it on their way to Bengal, or to the provinces, and if arriving by the Red Sea, are totally unprovided with the means of making themselves comfortable in the tents that may be hired upon their landing.
A tent, to a stranger in India, appears to be the most forlorn residence imaginable, and many cannot be reconciled to it, even after long custom. To those, however, who do not succeed in obtaining invitations to private houses, a tent is the only resource. It seems scarcely possible that the number of persons, who are obliged to live under canvas on the Esplanade, would not prefer apartments at a respectable hotel, if one should be erected for the purpose; yet it is said that such an establishment would not answer. Bombay can never obtain the pre-eminence over Calcutta, which it is so anxious to accomplish, until it will provide the accommodation for visitors which the City of Palaces has afforded during several years past. However agreeable the overland journey may be, it cannot be performed without considerable fatigue.
The voyage down the Red Sea, in warm weather especially, occasions a strong desire for rest; even those persons, therefore, who are so fortunate as to be carried off to friends' houses, immediately upon their arrival, would much prefer the comfort and seclusion of a hotel, for the first day or two at least. The idea of going amongst strangers, travel-soiled and travel-worn, is anything but agreeable, more particularly with the consciousness that a week's baths will scarcely suffice to remove the coal-dust collected in the steamers of the Red Sea: for my own part, I contemplated with almost equal alarm the prospect of presenting myself immediately upon the termination of my voyage, or of being left, on the charge of eight rupees per diem, to the tender mercies of the vessel.
We entered the harbour of Bombay in the evening of the 29th of October, too late to contemplate the beauty of its scenery, there being unfortunately no moon. As soon as we dropped anchor, a scene of bustle and excitement took place. The boxes containing the mails were all brought upon deck, the vessel was surrounded with boats, and the first news that greeted our ears—news that was communicated with great glee—was the damage done by fire to the Atalanta steamer. This open manifestation, by the officers of the Indian navy, of dislike to a service to which they belong, is, to say the least of it, ill-judged. A rapid increase in the number of armed steam-vessels may be calculated upon, while the destruction of half of those at present employed would scarcely retard the progress of this mighty power—a power which may alter the destinies of half the world. The hostility, therefore, of persons who cannot hope by their united opposition to effect the slightest change in the system, becomes contemptible.
It is a wise proverb which recommends us not to show our teeth unless we can bite. To expose the defects of steamers, may produce their remedy; but to denounce them altogether, is equally useless and unwise, since, however inconvenient they may be, no person, with whom despatch is an object, will hesitate to prefer them to a sailing-vessel; while every officer, who takes the Queen's or the Company's pay, should consider it to be his duty to uphold the service which tends to promote the interests of his country.
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Contrast between landing at Bombay and at Calcutta—First feelings those of disappointment—Aspect of the place improves—Scenery of the Island magnificent, abounding with fine Landscapes—Luxuriance and elegance of the Palms—Profusion and contrast of the Trees—Multitude of large Houses in Gardens—Squalid, dirty appearance of the Native Crowd—Costume of the Natives—Inferior to the Costume of Bengal—Countenances not so handsome—The Drive to the Fort—The Burrah Bazaar—Parsee Houses—"God-shops" of the Jains—General use of Chairs amongst the Natives—Interior of the Native Houses—The Sailors' Home—The Native Town—Improvements—The Streets animated and picturesque—Number of Vehicles—The Native Females—The Parsee Women—The Esplanade—Tents and Bungalows—The Fort—The China Bazaar—A Native School—Visit to a Parsee Warehouse—Seal ornamental China-ware—Apprehension of Fire in the Fort—Houses fired by Rats—Illumination of Native Houses—Discordant noise of Native Magic—The great variety of Religions in Bombay productive of lamp-lighting and drumming.
The bunder, or pier, where passengers disembark upon their arrival in Bombay, though well-built and convenient, offers a strong contrast to the splendours of Chandpaul Ghaut in Calcutta; neither are the bunder-boats at all equal in elegance to the budgerows, bohlias, and other small craft, which we find upon the Hooghley. There is nothing to indicate the wealth or the importance of the presidency to be seen at a glance; the Scottish church, a white-washed building of no pretensions, being the most striking object from the sea. Landward, a range of handsome houses flank so dense a mass of buildings, occupying the interior of the Fort, as to make the whole appear more like a fortified town than a place of arms, as the name would denote. The tower of the cathedral, rising in the centre, is the only feature in the scene which boasts any architectural charm; and the Esplanade, a wide plain, stretching from the ramparts to the sea, is totally destitute of picturesque beauty.
The first feelings, therefore, are those of disappointment, and it is not until the eye has been accustomed to the view, that it becomes pleased with many of the details; the interest increasing with the development of other and more agreeable features, either not seen at all, or seen through an unfavourable medium. The aspect of the place improved, as, after crossing the Esplanade or plain, the carriage drove along roads cut through palm-tree woods, and at length, when I reached my place of destination, I thought that I had never seen any thing half so beautiful.
The apartments which, through the kindness of hospitable friends, I called my own, commanded an infinite variety of the most magnificent scenery imaginable. To the left, through a wide vista between two hills, which seemed cleft for the purpose of admitting the view, lay the placid waters of the ocean, land-locked, as it were, by the bold bluff of distant islands, and dotted by a fairy fleet of fishing-boats, with their white sails glittering in the sun. In front, over a beautifully-planted fore-ground, I looked down upon a perfect sea of palms, the taller palmyras lifting their proud heads above the rest, and all so intermingled with other foliage, as to produce the richest variety of hues. This fine wood, a spur of what may be termed a forest further to the right, skirted a broad plain which stretched out to the beach, the bright waters beyond expanding and melting into the horizon, while to the right it was bounded by a hilly ridge feathered with palm-trees, the whole bathed in sunshine, and forming altogether a perfect Paradise.
Every period of the day, and every variation in the state of the atmosphere, serve to bring out new beauties in this enchanting scene; and the freshness and delicious balm of the morning, the gorgeous splendour of mid-day, the crimson and amber pomps of evening, and the pale moonlight, tipping every palm-tree top with silver, produce an endless succession of magical effects. In walking about the garden and grounds of this delightful residence, we are continually finding some new point from which the view appears to be more beautiful than before. Upon arriving at the verge of the cleft between the two hills, we look down from a considerable elevation over rocky precipitous ground, with a village (Mazagong) skirting the beach, while the prospect, widening, shows the whole of the harbour, with the high ghauts forming the back-ground.
Turning to the other side, behind the hill which shuts out the sea, the landscape is of the richest description—roads winding through thick plantations, houses peeping from embowering trees, and an umbrageous forest beyond. The whole of Bombay abounds with landscapes which, if not equal to that from Chintapooglee Hill, which I have, vainly I fear, attempted to describe, boast beauties peculiarly their own, the distinguishing feature being the palm-tree. It is impossible to imagine the luxuriance and elegance of this truly regal family as it grows in Bombay, each separate stage, from the first appearance of the different species, tufting the earth with those stately crowns which afterwards shoot up so grandly, being marked with beauty. The variety of the foliage of the coco-nut, the brab, and others, the manner of their growth, differing according to the different directions taken, and the exquisite grouping which continually occurs, prevent the monotony which their profusion might otherwise create, the general effect being, under all circumstances, absolutely perfect. Though the principal, the palm is far from being the only tree, and while frequently forming whole groves, it is as frequently blended with two species of cypress, the peepul, mango, banian, wild cinnamon, and several others.
In addition to the splendour of its wood and water, Bombay is embellished by fragments of dark rock, which force themselves through the soil, roughening the sides of the hills, and giving beauty to the precipitous heights and shelving beach. Though the island is comparatively small, extensively cultivated and thickly inhabited, it possesses its wild and solitary places, its rains deeply seated in thick forests, and its lonely hills covered with rock, and thinly wooded by the eternal palm-tree; hills which, in consequence of the broken nature of the ground, and their cavernous recesses, are difficult of access. It is in these fastnesses that the hyenas find secure retreats, and the Parsees construct their "towers of silence."
There is little, or indeed nothing, in the scenery that comes under the denomination of jungle, the island being intersected in every part with excellent roads, macadamized with the stone that abounds so conveniently for the purpose. These roads are sometimes skirted by walls of dark stone, which harmonize well with the trees that never fail to spread their shade above; at others, with beautiful hedge-rows, while across the flats and along the Esplanade, a water-course or a paling forms the enclosures.
The multitude of large houses, each situated in the midst of gardens or ornamented grounds, gives a very cheerful appearance to the roads of Bombay; but what the stranger on his first arrival in India is said to be most struck with is, the number and beauty of the native population. Probably, had I never seen Bengal, I might have experienced similar delight and astonishment; but with the recollections of Calcutta fresh in my mind, I felt disappointed.
Accustomed to multitudes of fine-looking well-dressed people, with their ample and elegant drapery of spotless white muslin, I could not help contrasting them with the squalid, dirty appearance of the native crowd of Bombay. Nor is it so easy at first to distinguish the varieties of the costume through the one grand characteristic of dirt; nor, with the exception of the peculiar Parsee turban, which is very ugly, the Persian cap, and the wild garb of the Arab, do they differ so widely as I expected. For instance; the Hindus and Mohamedans are not so easily recognized as in Bengal. The vest in ordinary wear, instead of being fitted tightly to the figure, and having that peculiarly elegant cut which renders it so graceful, seems nothing more than a loose bed-gown, coarse in materials and tasteless in shape: this forms the most common costume. The higher classes of Parsees wear an ample and not unbecoming dress; the upper garment of white cambric muslin fits tightly to the waist, where it is bound round with a sash or cummurbund of white muslin; it then descends in an exceedingly full skirt to the feet, covering a pair of handsome silk trowsers. A Parsee group, thus attired, in despite of their mean and unbecoming head-dress, make a good appearance.
The Arabs wear handkerchiefs or shawls, striped with red, yellow, and blue, bound round their heads, or hanging in a fanciful manner over their turbans. The Persian dress is grave and handsome, and there are, besides, Nubians, Chinese, and many others; but the well-dressed people must be looked for in the carriages, few of the same description are to be seen on foot, which gives to a crowd in Bengal so striking an appearance. In fact, a Bengallee may be recognized at a glance by his superior costume, and in no place is the contrast more remarkable than in the halls and entrances of Anglo-Indian houses. The servants, if not in livery—and it is difficult to get them to wear one, the dignity of caste interfering—are almost invariably ill-dressed and slovenly in their appearance. We see none of the beautifully plaited and unsullied white turbans; none of the fine muslin dresses and well-folded cummurbunds; the garments being coarse, dirty, scanty, and not put on to advantage. Neither are the countenances so handsome or the forms so fine; for though a very considerable degree of beauty is to be found of person and feature amid many classes of Parsees, Jews, Hindus, and Mohamedans, it is not so general as in Bengal, where the features are usually so finely cut, and the eyes so splendid.
Nevertheless, although my admiration has never been so strongly excited, and I was in the first instance greatly disappointed, every time I go abroad I become more reconciled to this change, and more gratified by the various objects which attract my attention; and there are few things that please me more than a drive to the Fort.
It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to convey any idea of the lively scene which is presented in this excursion, or the great variety of features which it embraces. Enclosures sprinkled over with palm-trees, and filled with a herd of buffaloes, occur close to a farm-house, which looks absolutely English; then we come to a cluster of huts of the most miserable description, occupying some low situation, placed absolutely on the ground, and scantily thatched with palm branches; stately mansions now arise to view, and then there is a row of small but apparently comfortable dwellings, habitations being thickly scattered over fields and gardens, until we reach what has been denominated the Black Town, but which is now generally known as the Burrah Bazaar. This is now a broad street, and, without exception, one of the most curious places I have ever beheld. It is said to have been much improved during late administrations, and, forming the high road to the Fort, is the avenue most frequented in the native town by Europeans. The buildings on either side are very irregular, and of various descriptions; some consist of ranges of small shops, with a story above in a very dilapidated and tumble-down condition. Then comes a row of large mansions of three floors, which look very much like the toy baby-houses constructed for children in England, the windows being so close together, and the interiors so public; others intervene, larger, more solid, and irregular, but exceedingly picturesque.
Most of the better kind of houses are ascended by a flight of steps, which leads to a sort of verandah, formed by the floor above projecting over it, and being supported by wooden pillars or other frame-work in front. In the Parsee houses of this kind, there is usually a niche in this lower portion for a lamp, which is kept always burning. In some places, the houses are enclosed in courtyards, and at others a range of dwellings, not very unlike the alms-houses in England, are divided from the road by a low wall, placed a few yards in the front, and entered at either end by gateways. These houses have a very comfortable appearance, and the shading of a few palm-trees completes a rather pretty picture. There are two mosques, one on either side of this street, which are handsomely constructed, and would be great embellishments to the scene, were they not so painfully whiter-washed.
A peculiar class of Hindus, the Jains, have also what have not been inappropriately termed "god-shops," for they certainly have not the slightest appearance of temples. These pagodas, if they may be so styled, are nothing more than large houses, of three floors, with balconies running in front, the heavy wooden frame-work that supports them being painted a dark dingy red, and the walk adorned with representations of deities, executed in a variety of colours, and of the most nondescript character. The interiors appear to be decorated in the same manner, as they are seen through the open windows and by the light of many lamps suspended from the ceilings. The ringing of bells, and the full attendance of priests and worshippers of an evening, show the purpose to which these houses are dedicated, and superstition is here exhibited in its most revolting aspect, for there is no illusion to cheat the fancy—no beautiful sequestered pagoda, with its shadowing trees and flower-strewed courts, to excite poetical ideas—all being coarse, vulgar, and contemptible.
Great numbers of artizans are to be seen at work in their respective shops in this bazaar, copper-smiths particularly, who seem an industrious race, toiling by lamp-light long after the day has completely closed. There are also caravanserais and cafes, where the country and religion of the owner may be known by the guests congregated about his gate. Groups of Persians are seen seated on the outside smoking; the beautiful cats, which they have brought down for sale, sporting at their feet. A few yards farther on, the Arab horse-dealers, in front of their stables, are equally conspicuous, and it is easy to perceive, by the eager glances with which some of these men survey the English carriages bearing fair freights of ladies along, that they have never visited an European settlement before.
My former visit to India enabling me to observe the differences between two of our presidencies, I was particularly struck, on my arrival at Bombay, with the general use of chairs among the natives; none but the very meanest description of houses seem to be entirely destitute of an article of furniture scarcely known in the native habitations of Bengal; and these seats seem to be preferred to the more primitive method of squatting on the ground, which still prevails, the number of chairs in each mansion being rather circumscribed, excepting in the best houses, where they abound. Sofas and divans, though seen, are not so common as in Egypt, and perhaps the divan, properly speaking, is not very usual.
The cheapness of oil, and in all probability the example shown by the Parsees, render lamps very abundant. The common kind of hall-lamp of England, of different sizes and different colours, is the prevailing article; these are supplied with a tumbler half-filled with water, having a layer of oil upon the top, and two cotton-wicks. As I lose no opportunity whatever of looking into the interiors of the native houses, I have been often surprised to see one of these lamps suspended in a very mean apartment of a cottage, boasting few other articles of furniture, which, nevertheless, in consequence of its cleanliness, and the excellence of the light afforded, possessed an air of comfort. In fact, many of the houses, whose exteriors are anything but promising, are very well fitted up in the inside; many of the apartments are panelled with wood, handsomely carved, and have ceilings and floors of the same, either painted of a dark colour, or highly polished. In the evening, the windows being all open, and the lamps lighted, a foil view may be obtained of these apartments.
Many of the houses appear to be kept entirely for show, since in all my peregrinations I have never seen any human being in the upper chambers, although illuminated every night. In others, there can be no doubt concerning the fact of their having inhabitants, since the owners do not scruple to go to bed with the windows open and the lamps burning, not disturbed in their repose by the certainty of being seen by every passer-by, or by the noise and bustle of the street.
The bazaar ends at the commencement of the Esplanade, in a large building, wooden-fronted, of a circular form, and not unhandsome, which is decorated with a flag upon the roof, and is called "The Sailors' Home." Its verandahs and open windows often display our jovial tars enjoying themselves in an asylum which, though evil has been spoken against it, is said to be well-conducted, and to prevent a very thoughtless class of persons from falling into worse hands.
The native town extends considerably on either side of the principal avenue, one road leading through the coco-nut gardens, presenting a great variety of very interesting features; that to the left is more densely crowded, there being a large and well-frequented cloth bazaar, besides a vast number of shops and native houses, apparently of considerable importance. Here the indications shown of wealth and industry are exceedingly gratifying to an eye delighting in the sight of a happy and flourishing population. There are considerable spaces of ground between these leading thoroughfares, which, by occasional peeps down intersecting lanes, seem to be covered with a huddled confusion of buildings, and, until the improvements which have recently taken place, the whole of the town seems to have been nearly in the same state.
The processes of widening, draining, pulling down, and rebuilding, appear to have been carried on very extensively; and though much, perhaps, remains to be done in the back settlements, where buffaloes may be seen wading through the stagnant pools, the eye is seldom offended, or the other senses disagreeably assailed, in passing through this populous district. The season is, however, so favourable, the heat being tempered by cool airs, which render the sunshine endurable, that Bombay, under its present aspect, may be very different from the Bombay of the rains or of the very hot weather. The continual palm-trees, which, shooting up in all directions, add grace and beauty to every scene, must form terrible receptacles for malaria; the fog and mist are said to cling to their branches and hang round them like a cloud, when dispersed by sun or wind elsewhere; the very idea suggesting fever and ague.
Though, as I have before remarked, the contrast between the muslined millions of Bengal and the less tastefully clad populace of Bombay is unfavourable, still the crowds that fill the streets here are animated and picturesque. There is a great display of the liveliest colours, the turbans being frequently of the brightest of yellows, crimsons, or greens.
The number of vehicles employed is quite extraordinary, those of the merely respectable classes being chiefly bullock-carts; these are of various descriptions, the greater number being of an oblong square, and furnished with seats across (after the fashion of our taxed carts), in which twelve persons, including women and children, are frequently accommodated. It is most amusing to see the quantity of heads squeezed close together in a vehicle of this kind, and the various contrivances resorted to in order to accommodate a more than sufficient number of personages in other conveyances, not so well calculated to hold them. Four in a buggy is a common complement, and six or nine persons will cram themselves into so small a space, that you wonder how the vehicle can possibly contain the bodies of all the heads seen looking out of it. The carts are chiefly open, but there are a few covered rhuts, the conveyances probably of rich Hindu or Mohamedan ladies, who do not content themselves, like the Parsees, with merely covering their heads with the veil.
Young Parsee women of the better class are frequently to be seen in carriages with their male relations, nor do they object to appear publicly in the streets following wedding processions. They are the only well-dressed or nice-looking women who drive or walk about the streets or roads. The lower classes of females in Bombay are the most unprepossessing people I ever saw. In Bengal, the saree, though rather too scanty, is a graceful costume, and at a little distance appears to be a modest covering. Here it is worn very differently, and without the slightest attempt at delicacy or grace, the drapery being in itself insufficient, and rendered more offensive by the method of its arrangement.
The Parsee women are, generally speaking, of fair complexions, with small features, and a very sweet expression of countenance; many of them are exceedingly pretty, and they all dress gracefully and becomingly. Very respectable females of this class are to be seen walking about, showing by their conduct that propriety of behaviour does not consist in seclusion, or the concealment of the face.
There is an innate delicacy and refinement about Parsee women which commands respect, and their value is known and acknowledged by their male relatives, who treat them with a degree of deference and consideration which is highly creditable to both parties. Though the men are found in service in every European family, they do not allow their wives and daughters to become domestics to foreigners, and they are only permitted to become servants to their own people. The higher classes of natives have adopted European equipages, and are the owners of the handsomest carriages and horses in Bombay. Chariots, barouches, britschkas, and buggies, appear in great numbers, filled with Mohamedan, Hindu, or Parsee gentlemen. The less fashionable use the palanquin carriage, common in Bengal, but which at this place is called a shigram; these are often crammed full of servants and children.
Upon emerging from the bazaar, we enter upon the wide plain called the Esplanade. To the left, across an extensive parade-ground, appears the Fort, which is seen to the best advantage from this point; the walls are low, and afford an ample view of a range of three-storied houses, having verandahs all the way up, called Rampart Row, and from which one or two very splendid mansions stand out conspicuously. To the right, there is a whole encampment of tents, these canvas dwellings being the sole refuge for the destitute. They may be hired in any number and of every degree of elegance, none, however, quite reaching to the refinements of Bengal, or being supplied with glass doors and windows. Beyond the tents, and quite close to the beach, is the space allotted for the temporary bungalows erected during the cold season—singular places, which will be more fully described under the head of Anglo-Indian residences. In front, and close to the warf or bunder, are immense irregular piles of cotton in bales, which at a distance appear like fortifications, and upon a nearer approach assume somewhat of a picturesque air.
The Fort is surrounded on the land-side with a moat, and is entered through some very shabby gateways. The interior of this extensive work presents a busy, bustling scene; its numerous houses being arranged with some degree of regularity in streets and open places. Those who content themselves, however, with driving through the European portion, will have very little idea of the true character of the place. Rampart Row—the avenues leading into a large open space, in which stand the cathedral, the town-hall, the mint, a cavalry barrack, &c.—and the immediate environs, are composed of lofty, well-constructed houses, some standing a little apart in courtyards, and others with a narrow platform in front, ascended by steps, and roofed by the story above. This, as I have previously stated, is the general method of building in Bombay. These streets have somewhat of an European, though not an English, air, but are for the most part tenanted by natives, who may be seen at the windows of every floor, and who apparently are better lodged, at least according to our idea, than the same class in Calcutta. In this part of the Fort there are several shops, or rather warehouses, for the sale of European goods—dingy places, having a melancholy assortment of faded articles in dim glass cases, freshness and variety in the merchandize depending upon shipping arrivals.
Earthenware, glass, and cutlery, are abundant; but, altogether, there is nothing at present to compare with the first-rate establishments of Calcutta—such as Tulloh's, for instance—the whole style being dirty and slovenly. A very civil native, named Muncherjee, who calls himself a milliner, has, I am informed, very frequently well-chosen investments to dispose of, but upon my visits I have seen nothing wearable in the shape of bonnets and caps. An English milliner resides in his neighbourhood, who possesses both skill and taste, and makes up her silks and gauzes after the best French models; but necessarily, perhaps, the purchases made at her rooms are rather expensive.
There is quite enough of bustle and animation in this quarter of the Fort to engage the attention, but it seems silent and deserted when compared with the crowd of the more exclusively native portions. Here the streets literally swarm with life—men, women, children, and bullocks, filling them almost to suffocation. Ranges of open shops appear on each side, raised a foot or two from the ground, the occupant being seated upon a ledge in front, in the midst of his wares. Here, too, immense quantities of English glass and crockery-ware are exhibited, which may be purchased at a much cheaper rate than in shops styled, par distinction, European.
One or two opportunities offering for a visit to what is called the China Bazaar, I gladly availed myself of them, and was much amused, as the carriage made its slow way through the multitudes that thronged the streets, to observe the employments of the people, buying, selling, manufacturing their goods, or, for want of something else to do, dragging little children in carts, which, by some contrivance, ran back across the floor of the narrow apartment, and were then impelled forward again by means of a string. This I found to be a favourite occupation, and I never in any place saw more fondness manifested towards children by their parents than in Bombay, or a greater desire to associate them in all their amusements. At length, the carriage stopped at a gateway, and upon alighting, I found myself in the midst of a crowd of little children—an infant school, in fact, composed indiscriminately of boys and girls. They were, generally speaking, very pretty, and all well-dressed, many being adorned with very handsome jewels.
The pedagogue—a Parsee, and rather a young man—with the barbarity common to his class, was in the act of inflicting corporal punishment upon a poor little creature, whom he beat upon the feet (ornamented, by the way, with rich anclets) with a rod of split bamboo. I commanded him to forbear, but speaking half in English and half in Hindustanee, made myself better understood by look and gesture than by words. The unhappy infant seemed to know that I interfered in its behalf, for it gazed upon me with a piteous but grateful expression; it could not have been more than three years old, and was really very pretty and interesting in its tears. It was evidently the child of wealthy parents, being dressed in a silk shirt embroidered and trimmed with silver, a cap of the same upon its head, and numerous jewels besides. The whole of the Lilliputian assembly uttered their lesson as I passed, all raising their voices at the same time, and rendering it, I imagine, rather difficult to determine whether each pupil repeated his or her part correctly.
I would fain have lingered for a few minutes, but my attendants officiously showing the way, I walked across a paved yard and up two flights of steps to the shop of which I came in search, which was kept by a good-looking Parsee. The trade of this person was designated as that of a bottlee wallah, which being literally rendered means 'bottle-fellow,' but, according to a more free translation, a dealer in glass, lamps, candlesticks, preserved meats in tin-cases, &c. &c. I found a vast stock of the articles most in request in Indian housekeeping, such as wall-shades, and all descriptions of earthen and hard-ware, all of which he sold at very moderate prices, but having executed the part of my commission which related to candlesticks, I was unable to find the more recherche articles of which I came in quest.
I had been told that a great variety of ornamental china, the real product of the Celestial Empire, was to be seen in the native shops in Bombay. Though showy in appearance, this sort of china is of little value, except to mark how much the manufacture has degenerated since Europeans have learned to make their own teacups. I wished to obtain a few specimens, but could not succeed. My friend, the bottlee wallah, though very civil, could not afford me the information I required, nor have I yet been able to obtain it. I have seen some handsome jars, plates such as are used in England for the deposit of visitors' cards, &c., which were purchased for a few annas, and have been told that I might procure any quantity I pleased, but the where is still a mystery.
All the information obtainable in Bombay must be fished out in an extraordinary manner, both natives and Europeans seeming to make it a rule never to commit themselves by a direct reply to any question; in every single instance, up to the present time, I have always, upon making an inquiry, been referred to somebody else. Neither do I find the same zeal manifested in the servants, which amounts to officiousness on the other side of India. I have sent them to purchase the china, but can get nothing but rubbish, knowing all the while that there are plenty of a better description to be had.
Upon my return, the bottlee wallah accompanied me to the carriage in waiting, and as I paused to notice some of the children in the school, introduced me to a group of his own sons and daughters, well decked out in jewels, and otherwise richly dressed. The instruction given at these schools I understood to be merely oral, the repetition of a few verses, intended rather to pass away the time and keep the children out of mischief, than as a foundation of more useful studies. I hope that the system will be improved, for the pupils seemed to be extremely intelligent, and capable of better things.
Returning home, I passed several shops, in which the artizans of a very beautiful manufacture, peculiar to Bombay, were at work. Desks, dressing-cases, work-boxes, card-cases, ink-stands, and a variety of other ornamental fancy articles, are made of sandal-wood, covered and inlaid with ivory, ebony, and a material resembling silver. They copy the best patterns, and produce exceedingly elegant appendages for the drawing or dressing-room tables. A desk, handsomely fitted up and lined with velvet, is sold for seven or eight pounds; large ink-stands and blotting books for twenty rupees, and card-cases for six or eight.
It is impossible, while perambulating the Fort of Bombay, to avoid a feeling of apprehension concerning a catastrophe, which sooner or later seems certain to happen, and which nothing short of a miracle appears to prevent from taking place every night; I mean the destruction of the whole by fire. All the houses are constructed of the most combustible materials, and the greater number belonging to the native quarter are thatched. Though contrary to law, many of the warehouses contain gunpowder, while the immense quantity of oil and spirits stored up in them would render a conflagration, once commenced, most fearful. Few or no precautions seem to be taken by the natives against fire. There are lights burning in every room of every house, fires are continually made outside, whence a single spark might set the whole in flames; and added to these dangers, are the prejudices of the great number of the inhabitants, whose religious feelings would prevent them from making the slightest endeavour to stay the progress of the element which they worship. Nor would the destruction of property be the sole danger. It is terrible to think of the fearful risk of life in a place in which escape would be so difficult. The gates of the Fort are few in number, and of narrow dimensions; a new one is now constructing, probably with some view to an emergence of the kind. The natives, upon the occasion of its proposal, evinced their readiness to assist in the execution of a plan so advantageous to the place of their abode, and immediately advanced half the sum which this necessary improvement would cost—namely, thirty thousand rupees—which were subscribed and paid into the treasury in the course of a week.
In 1803 or 1804, a very destructive conflagration actually took place in the Fort of Bombay, and upon that occasion, in order to save the castle, which did then, and does now, contain an immense quantity of gunpowder, the authorities were obliged to bring out cannon to batter down the surrounding houses, for the purpose of arresting the progress of the flames. When the place was rebuilt, many salutary regulations were made to prevent the recurrence of so great a calamity, and could all the plans of Government have been accomplished, the danger which now threatens Bombay would have been very considerably lessened; but it was found impossible to carry out all the objects contemplated, in consequence of the great value of the property which they would affect.
The land within the walls of the Fort has become in a great measure private property, and the convenience of its contiguity to the harbour is so great, and the natives entertain so strong an idea of security in a residence in a fortified place, however disqualified to resist a hostile force, that nothing would prevail upon them to relinquish their houses. The higher classes are well aware of the hazards they incur, but, like the dwellers in the neighbourhood of a volcano, are unwilling to quit a place endeared to them by long residence, though they know not the hour in which they may be buried beneath its smoking ruins. There are only a few Europeans who continue to inhabit the Fort, but it must contain a very considerable portion of the property of those merchants who have their offices and warehouses within its walls. The British authorities have taken all the precautions in their power, the fire-engines have been placed in a state of greater efficiency than heretofore, while, should an extensive fire take place, everything that European strength and skill could accomplish would be attempted.
Amongst the various accidents to which houses in Bombay are subjected, the one to be most apprehended, that of fire, is often brought about by rats. They will carry off a lighted candle at every convenient opportunity, setting fire to dwellings by this means. They have been also known to upset tumblers containing oil, which is thus spread abroad and likely to be ignited by the falling wick. It is, perhaps, impossible totally to exterminate this race of vermin, which in the Fort set cats completely at defiance, but something might be done to keep the population down. I have been told that there are places in the more crowded portion rendered perfectly impassable at night in consequence of the effluvia arising from the immense quantities of musk rats, which, together with the common sort, and bandicoots of an incredible size, abound, the narrow close lanes being apparently built for the purpose of affording accommodation to vermin of every description. Nevertheless, some of the native houses of the Fort would form very agreeable residences to persons accustomed to the utmost refinement. Being exceedingly lofty, the upper apartments have the advantage of every breeze that blows, while the views both of sea and land are splendid.
The immense size of these houses, and the elegance of their decorations, evince the spirit and wealth of their owners; they become absolutely beacons at night, in consequence of the frequency and the extent of their illuminations. Numerous are the occasions, either of holidays or other rejoicings, in which the natives of Bombay light up their houses; rows of lamps hung along the wide fronts of the verandahs, upon every floor, produce a good effect, which is often heightened by the flood of light poured out of apartments decorated with chandeliers and lamps of every description.
In passing through the bazaar at night, every third or fourth house is lit up upon some festive occasion; one favourite and very pretty method consists of a number of small lamps, arranged to resemble bunches of grapes, and hung up in the trees of a court-yard. Sometimes in the evening, a sort of market is held in the native town beyond the Esplanade, and every stall is profusely lighted; the hawkers, who carry about their goods in a more humble way upon their heads in baskets, have them stuck with candles, and the wild shadowy effects produced, amid the quaint buildings thus partially lighted, afford a continual phantasmagoria.
They must be destitute of imagination, indeed, who cannot find pleasure in the contemplation of the night-scenes of Bombay, either from its native crowds, or the delicious solitudes of its sylvan shades. The ear is the only organ absolutely unblest in this sunny island, the noises being incessant, and most discordant; the shrieking of jackals by night is music compared to that from native instruments, which, in the most remote places, are continually striking up: the drums, trumpets, bells, and squeaking pipes, of a neighbouring village, are now inflicting their torments upon my distracted brain in the most barbarous manner possible. The exertions of the performers never appear to relax, and by night or day, it is all the same; they make themselves heard at any distance, parading along the roads for the sole purpose, it should seem, of annoying the more peaceable inhabitants. Certainly, the sister arts of music and painting have yet to make their way in India, the taste for both being at present perfectly barbarous.
The European bands, when playing on the Esplanade, attract a very considerable number of natives; but whether congregated for the purpose of listening to the music, or merely for the sake of passing the time, seems very doubtful. A few, certainly, manifest a predilection for "concord of sweet sounds," and no difficulty is experienced by band-masters in recruiting their forces from natives, the boys learning readily, and acquitting themselves very well upon instruments foreign to the country. There is, however, no manifestation at present of the spread of a refined taste, and many years will probably elapse before any thing like good music will be common in this part of Asia.
The great variety of religions extant in Bombay, each being distinguished by numerous festivals, all celebrated in the same manner—that is, by noise and illuminations—sufficiently accounts for the perpetual recurrence of lamp-lighting and drumming in all directions. Every week brings round the anniversary of some day of rejoicing of the Mohamedans, Hindus, Parsees, Jews, Roman Catholics, or Armenians, and Bombay may therefore be said to present one universal holiday. Passing the other evening one of the handsomest pagodas in the island, an oblong square building of yellow stone, with a mitre-shaped tower at one end, I was surprised by the number of European carriages in waiting. The exterior had all the air of a Christian church, the situation beautiful, a platform of rock overlooking the sea; and I could not help indulging the hope, that the substitution of chariots and buggies for palanquins and rhuts would lead to the introduction of a purer and better creed.
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Bombay the rising Presidency—Probability of its becoming the Seat of Government—The Anglo-Indian Society of Bombay—Style of Living—The Gardens inferior to those of Bengal—Interiors of the Houses more embellished—Absence of Glass-windows an evil—The Bungalows—The Encamping-ground—Facility and despatch of a change of residence—Visit to a tent entertainment—Inconveniences attending a residence in tents—Want of Hotels and Boarding-houses—Deficiency of public Amusements in Bombay—Lectures and Conversaziones suggested, as means of bringing the native community into more frequent intercourse with Europeans—English spoken by the superior classes of natives—Natives form a very large portion of the wealth and intelligence of Bombay—Nothing approaching the idea of a City to be seen—The climate more salubrious than that of Bengal—Wind blows hot and cold at the same time—Convenience a stranger finds in so many domestic servants speaking English—Their peculiar mode of speaking it—Dress of servants—Their wages—The Cooks—Improved by Lord Clare—Appointments of the tables—The Ramoosee Watchmen—Their vociferations during the night—Fidelity of the natives—Controversy concerning their disregard of truth.
Comparisons are so frequently both unfair and invidious, that I had determined, upon my arrival at Bombay, to abstain from making them, and to judge of it according to its own merits, without reference to those of the rival presidency. It was impossible, however, to adhere to this resolution, and being called upon continually to give an opinion concerning its claims to superiority over Calcutta, I was reluctantly compelled to consider it in a less favourable point of view than I should have done had the City of Palaces been left out of the question.
That Bombay is the rising presidency there can be no doubt, and there seems to be every probability of its becoming the seat of the Supreme Government; nothing short of a rail-road between the two presidencies can avert this catastrophe; the number of days which elapse before important news reaching Bombay can be known and acted upon by the authorities of Calcutta rendering the measure almost imperative. Bengal, too proudly triumphing in her greatness, has now to bear the mortifications to which she delighted to subject Bombay, a place contemptuously designated as "a fishing village," while its inhabitants, in consequence of their isolated situation, were called "the Benighted."
Steam-communication brought the news to Bombay of the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne of England, and this event was celebrated at the same time that the Bengallees were toasting the health of William the Fourth at a dinner given in honour of his birth-day. "Who are the Benighted now?" was the universal cry; and the story is told with great glee to all new arrivals.
Concerning the Anglo-Indian society of Bombay, I do not pretend to know any thing, or to give opinions which must necessarily be premature and presumptuous. A round of dinner parties affords little opportunity of making acquaintance; they are much the same everywhere, and when a large company is assembled, their agreeability must entirely depend upon the persons who occupy the neighbouring chairs.
Bombay is accused, with what degree of justice I cannot determine, of being a place much addicted to scandal and gossip. If this charge be well founded, it is one which it must share in common with all limited circles. The love of detraction is unhappily a thoroughly English vice, flourishing under all circumstances, and quite as prevalent, though not, perhaps, equally hurtful, in great cities as in the smallest village. The same people who in London delight in the perusal of newspapers of the most libellous description, and who read with avidity every publication which attacks private character, will, when removed into a congenial sphere, pick their neighbours to pieces; an amusement which cannot be enjoyed in the metropolis, where happily we do not know the names of the parties who occupy the adjoining houses.
We are proud of our virtues, not unjustly giving ourselves credit for many that elevate and refine the human character; but even the most solid and the most dazzling can scarcely compensate for that one universal sin, that want of charity, which leads English people upon all occasions to undervalue and disparage their most intimate acquaintance. How few will scruple to point out to others the follies and foibles of their dearest friends, weaknesses which they have discovered during long and familiar intercourse; and how few will hesitate to impute the very worst motives for actions which may spring from a laudable source, or be merely the result of thoughtlessness! In our most Christian country, the spirit of the Christian religion is still to be sought, and until we see stronger proofs of its influence than can at present be shown throughout the United Kingdom, we must not single out a remote colony as a specimen of the indulgence of a vice common to us all.
The great evil, which Bombay must share with other communities similarly constituted, is the want of family ties, and the consequent loss of all the gentle affections which spring amid a wide domestic circle. Neither the very old nor the very young are to be found in an Indian colony; there are few connecting links to bind the sojourners of a foreign land together; each has a separate interest, and the result is seen in a general want of sympathy; no one seems to enter into the views, feelings, hopes, or objects of another. I employ the word seems, since, as a stranger, I can only give my first impressions upon the subject.
The style of living is more easily described, and its relative advantages determined. The Anglo-Indian residents of Bombay are, for the most part, scattered all over the island, living in very comfortable houses, of no great pretensions to exterior elegance, yet having for the most part an air of home enjoyment, which suggests pleasing ideas. One feature is very striking, the porticoes and verandahs of many being completely covered with luxuriant flowering creepers, which in Bengal are never suffered to be near the house, in consequence of the harbour they are supposed to give to insects and reptiles. The approach to these beautiful screens is, however, frequently through a cabbage-garden, the expedience of planting out the unsightly but useful vegetables destined for the kitchen not having been as yet considered; neither can the gardens at this period of the year, the cold season, compare with those of Bengal, the expense of irrigation preventing the inhabitants from devoting so much time and attention to their improvement, while as yet the natives have not been encouraged to fill the bazaars with European vegetables. Pease are spoken of as not being uncommon, but I have only seen them once, even at the best tables. Neither have cauliflowers, French beans, or asparagus, made their appearance—vegetables common at Christmas all over the Bengal presidency.
The interiors of the houses are, generally speaking, more embellished than those of Calcutta; the greater part have handsome ceilings, and the doorways and windows are decorated with mouldings, and otherwise better finished. The walls also are coloured, and often very tastefully picked out with white or some other harmonizing tint. The reception-rooms, therefore, have not the barn-like air which detracts from the magnitude of those of Bengal, and the furniture, if not always equally splendid, is shown off to greater advantage; but here I should say the superiority ends.
Some of the small bungalows are very neatly fitted up with boarded ceilings, a great improvement upon the cloth which conceals the rafters in those of Bengal; others, however, are canopied with cloth, and some there are which appear more like summer-houses than habitations intended for Europeans throughout the year, being destitute of glass windows, and open to all the winds of heaven.
The frequent changes of the atmosphere which occur in Bombay, and the danger of a touch of the land-wind, render the absence of glass windows a very serious evil; they are, however, unknown in the temporary bungalows erected upon the Esplanade, which seem to be favourite residences of people who could lodge themselves more substantially if they pleased. The barn-like thatched roofs of these dwellings make them rather unsightly objects, though some are redeemed by a thick drapery of creepers; but the interiors of many are of a very pavilion-like description, and the singularity of all renders them interesting to a stranger.
These houses usually consist of two or more principal apartments, united with each other by means of verandahs, and formed chiefly of wooden frame-work panelled with canvas, with here and there a partition of wattle and dab. They have generally large porticoes of trellice-work in front, sufficiently spacious to allow a carriage to drive under them, which is thus screened from the sun; these porticoes being mantled with flowering creepers of many beautiful kinds. A sort of garden is also formed by plants in tubs, and there is sometimes a cultivated oval or circular space, which, in such a climate, a very few weeks will render luxuriant. The fronts of these bungalows face the sea, and have all the benefit of its breezes, while the intervening space between the fort forms the parade-ground of the garrison, and the most esteemed evening drive.
Those who inhabit these bungalows, and who do not rise before the sun, are subjected to all the inconveniences attending upon field practice, the firing of musquetry and the war of cannon close to their ears, and though favourite residences, they seem better suited to persons well accustomed to all the vicissitudes of Anglo-Indian life than to a stranger. For my own part, I confess a prejudice in favour of brick and mortar, glass windows, and chimneys; and though perfectly content, while travelling, to put up with any accommodation that may offer, would never willingly settle down for a season in a mansion of canvas, mat, and bamboo, where the rats have free ingress, and the atmosphere is filled with innumerable winged insects.
Before the general setting-in of the rains, these bungalows, I am informed, assume a very damp and tatterdemalion appearance, and when the skies open their flood-gates, they are obliged to be taken down and warehoused until the following year. Some of these bungalows are private property, others are erected by the natives and let to their tenants at a monthly rent. In some, the sleeping and sitting apartments are under different roofs; all have a considerable piece of ground enclosed round them, the allotments to each party being made by Government, and appertaining to certain appointments in the service.
Beyond these bungalows is the encamping ground, in which certain temporary sojourners in Bombay either pitch or hire a tent or tents, the accommodation differing according to the expense incurred. The superior tents—such, for instance, as that engaged by the late admiral—are spacious and convenient; a handsome suite of apartments, consisting of ante-room, drawing-room, and dining-room, partitioned off by canvas curtains, which could be rolled up at pleasure, were lighted by chandeliers suspended from the cross-poles and girandoles against those that supported the roof; the walls were handsomely lined, the floors covered with thick mats and carpets; nothing being wanted to render this canvas dwelling equal in comfort and elegance to the tents of Bengal, excepting glass doors.
The weather, during the cold season in this part of India, is not nearly so inclement as in Calcutta and the north-western provinces; nevertheless, it is very desirable to shut out the keen and cutting wind, which frequently blows during the night. The people here, however, seem fond of living in tents, and it often happens that gentlemen especially, who have had good houses of their own over their heads, go to very considerable expense for the purpose of enjoying the free air of a camp.
I had an opportunity of seeing the facility and despatch with which such a change of residence is managed in Bombay. Driving one evening round the foot of a conical hill overlooking the sea, we met a party of gentlemen who said that they were looking out for a good place to pitch their tents, and invited us to dine with them on the following evening at seven o'clock. As the hill was in our neighbourhood, we ascertained at eleven o'clock the next morning that there was not a symptom of habitation upon it; however, we were determined to keep our engagement, and accordingly arrived at the appointed hour at the point of the road at which a rude pathway opened.
It was perfectly dark, but we found the place indicated by a cluster of lamps hanging like a bunch of grapes from a tree; a palanquin was also in waiting to carry the ladies up the hill in turn. I preferred walking; and though my shoes and the hem of my gown were covered with prickles and thorns, which interweaved themselves in an extraordinary manner through a satin dress, I enjoyed the walk amazingly. A man with a lanthorn led the way, a precaution always taken in Bombay, on account of the alleged multitude of the snakes, and at every three or four yards' distance, another cluster of lamps suspended from a tree pointed out the way.
In a few minutes we arrived at a platform of table-land on the summit of the hill, prettily sprinkled with palm-trees, and came upon a scene full of life, picture, and movement. The white outline of the smaller tents had a sort of phantom look in the ambiguous light, but the open doors of the principal one showed a strong illumination. A table, which we might have supposed to be raised by the hand of an enchanter, gleaming with silver, cut glass, and wax candles, was absolutely framed in by the darkness around. Two or three horses picketed under the trees with their grooms, cowering over fires made upon the ground, looked very like unearthly chargers, just emerged with their grim attendants from some subterranean kingdom; while the red glare from the cooking tents, and the dusky figures moving about, could scarcely be recognised as belonging to human and every-day life—the whole scene having a supernatural air.
The interior of the tents was extremely picturesque, fitted up with odds and ends of foreign products, and looking very like the temporary haunt of some pirate; tiger skins, rich soft thick rugs of Persian manufacture, interspersed with Indian mats, covered the floors; the tents were lined with flags, favouring the notion that the corsair's bark lay anchored in some creek below; while daggers, and pistols, and weapons of all kinds, helped out a fanciful imagination to a tale of wild adventure. The butler of our host had enacted more wonders than a man; under such circumstances, a repast of fish and curry might have been considered a great achievement, but we had the three regular courses, and those, too, of a most recherche kind, with a dessert to match, all sent up to the point of perfection.
After coffee, I went out to look upon the sea, which lay like a mirror below the perpendicular height on which I stood; and as my eyes became accustomed to the darkness of a moonless night, I saw under new aspects the sombre outlines of those soft hills, whose purple loveliness I had admired so much during the day.
I spent several pleasant evenings in these tents, which were engaged by a young nobleman upon his travels for the purpose of escaping from the annoyances of the Fort, and who, during his short residence under canvas, had the advantage of the companionship of a friend, to whose experienced servants he was indebted for the excellence of the arrangements.
When it is considered that these tents were pitched upon a lonely spot, upwards of four miles from Bombay and from the bazaars, the celerity and success with which every thing was managed will appear quite wonderful. The tents were found to be so cold, that a gentleman who afterwards joined the party slept in his palanquin; they were subsequently removed, and now the palm-tree waves its broad leaves over the lonely hill, and the prowling jackal seeks his meal elsewhere. Tents such as those now described form the rarer and brighter specimens, their usual character being very different.
On the Esplanade we step at once from the ground upon a settrinjee, which bears all the marks of having been well trodden by sandy feet; an opening at the farther extremity shows the sea, glaring on the eye with a hot dazzle; a table, a few chairs, with some books and papers, perhaps, upon the ground, complete the arrangements that are visible; while, if proceeding farther, we find ourselves in a room fitted up as a bed-chamber, nearly as small and inconvenient as the cabin of a ship, with a square aperture in the thin canvas wall for a window.
These tents are dreadfully warm during the day, and exceedingly cold at night; they are, moreover, notwithstanding their proximity to the sea, and the benefit of its breezes, filled with mosquitoes, or sand-flies, which are equally troublesome. Persons who contemplate a long residence in them, keep out of the cold and heat by erecting a chopper, or roof, formed of thatch, over them; but, in my opinion, they are but uncomfortable residences. Many strangers, however, arriving at Bombay, have no alternative, there being no other place where they can find equally good accommodation.
An hotel, it appears, has been established in the Fort, but not of a description to suit private families or ladies; the constant arrival of steamers full of passengers fills the houses of the residents with a succession of guests, who would gladly put up at an hotel or boarding-house, if such could be found, while there are besides many ladies now in Bombay, whose husbands are in the army, living uncomfortably either alone or going about from friend to friend's houses, who would rejoice to be quietly and comfortably established in a respectable boarding-house. Nothing of the kind, however, appears to be at present in contemplation, and Bombay can never, with any degree of justice, presume to call itself England, until it can offer suitable accommodation to the vast numbers of strangers who land upon its shores.