MoboReader > Literature > Eight Years' Wanderings in Ceylon

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Eight Years' Wanderings in Ceylon By Sir Samuel White Baker Characters: 22408

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Past Scenes-Attractions of Ceylon-Emigration-Difficulties in Settling-Accidents and Casualties-An Eccentric Groom-Insubordination-Commencement of Cultivation-Sagacity of the Elephant-Disappointments-"Death" in the Settlement-Shocking Pasturage-Success of Emigrants-"A Good Knock-about kind of a Wife".

I had not been long in England before I discovered that my trip to Ceylon had only served to upset all ideas of settling down quietly at home. Scenes of former sports and places were continually intruding themselves upon my thoughts, and I longed to be once more roaming at large with the rifle through the noiseless wildernesses in Ceylon. So delightful were the recollections of past incidents that I could scarcely believe that it lay within my power to renew them. Ruminating over all that bad happened within the past year, I conjured up localities to my memory which seemed too attractive to have existed in reality. I wandered along London streets, comparing the noise and bustle with the deep solitudes of Ceylon, and I felt like the sickly plants in a London parterre. I wanted the change to my former life. I constantly found myself gazing into gunmakers' shops, and these I sometimes entered abstractedly to examine some rifle exposed in the window. Often have I passed an hour in boring the unfortunate gunmakers to death by my suggestions for various improvements in rifles and guns, which, as I was not a purchaser, must have been extremely edifying.

Time passed, and the moment at length arrived when I decided once more to see Ceylon. I determined to become a settler at Newera Ellia, where I could reside in a perfect climate, and nevertheless enjoy the sports of the low country at my own will.

Thus, the recovery from a fever in Ceylon was the hidden cause of my settlement at Newera Ellia. The infatuation for sport, added to a gypsy-like love of wandering and complete independence, thus dragged me away from home and from a much-loved circle.

In my determination to reside at Newera Ellia, I hoped to be able to carry out some of those visionary plans for its improvement which I have before suggested; and I trusted to be enabled to effect such a change in the rough face of Nature in that locality as to render a residence at Newera Ellia something approaching to a country life in England, with the advantage of the whole of Ceylon for my manor, and no expense of gamekeepers.

To carry out these ideas it was necessary to set to work; and I determined to make a regular settlement at Newera Ellia, sanguinely looking forward to establishing a little English village around my own residence.

Accordingly, I purchased an extensive tract of land from the government, at twenty shillings per acre. I engaged an excellent bailiff, who, with his wife and daughter, with nine other emigrants, including a blacksmith, were to sail for my intended settlement in Ceylon.

I purchased farming implements of the most improved descriptions, seeds of all kinds, saw-mills, etc., etc., and the following stock: A half-bred bull (Durham and Hereford), a well-bred Durham cow, three rams (a Southdown, Leicester and Cotswold), and a thorough-bred entire horse by Charles XII.; also a small pack of foxhounds and a favorite greyhound ("Bran").

My brother had determined to accompany me; and with emigrants, stock, machinery, hounds, and our respective families, the good ship "Earl of Hardwick," belonging to Messrs. Green & Co., sailed from London in September, 1848. I had previously left England by the overland mail of August to make arrangements at Newera Ellia for the reception of the whole party.

I had as much difficulty in making up my mind to the proper spot for the settlement as Noah's dove experienced in its flight from the ark. However, I wandered over the neighboring plains and jungles of Newera Ellia, and at length I stuck my walking-stick into the ground where the gentle undulations of the country would allow the use of the plough. Here, then, was to be the settlement.

I had chosen the spot at the eastern extremity of the Newera Ellia plain, on the verge of the sudden descent toward Badulla. This position was two miles and a half from Newera Ellia, and was far more agreeable and better adapted for a settlement, the land being comparatively level and not shut in by mountains.

It was in the dreary month of October, when the south-west monsoon howls in all its fury across the mountains; the mist boiled up from the valleys and swept along the surface of the plains, obscuring the view of everything, except the pattering rain which descended without ceasing day or night. Every sound was hushed, save that of the elements and the distant murmuring roar of countless waterfalls; not a bird chirped, the dank white lichens hung from the branches of the trees, and the wretchedness of the place was beyond description.

I found it almost impossible to persuade the natives to work in such weather; and it being absolutely necessary that cottages should be built with the greatest expedition, I was obliged to offer an exorbitant rate of wages. In about fortnight, however, the wind and rain showed flags of truce in the shape of white clouds set in a blue sky. The gale ceased, and the skylarks warbled high in air, giving life and encouragement to the whole scene. It was like a beautiful cool mid-summer in England.

I had about eighty men at work; and the constant click-clack of axes, the felling of trees, the noise of saws and hammers and the perpetual chattering o the coolies gave a new character to the wild spot upon which I had fixed.

The work proceeded rapidly; neat white cottages soon appeared in the forest; and I expected to have everything in readiness for the emigrants on their arrival. I rented a tolerably good house in Newera Ellia, and so far everything had progressed well.

The "Earl of Hardwick" arrived after a prosperous voyage, with passengers and stock all in sound health; the only casualty on board had been to one of the hounds. In a few days all started from Colombo for Newera Ellia. The only trouble was, How to get the cow up? She was a beautiful beast, a thorough-bred "shorthorn," and she weighed about thirteen hundredweight. She was so fat that a march of one hundred and fifteen miles in a tropical climate was impossible. Accordingly a van was arranged for her, which the maker assured me would carry an elephant. But no sooner had the cow entered it than the whole thing came down with a crash, and the cow made her exit through the bottom. She was therefore obliged to start on foot in company with the bull, sheep, horse and hounds, orders being given that ten miles a day, divided between morning and evening, should be the maximum march during the journey.

The emigrants started per coach, while our party drove up in a new clarence which I had brought from England. I mention this, as its untimely end will be shortly seen.

Four government elephant-carts started with machinery, farming implements, etc., etc., while a troop of bullock-bandies carried the lighter goods. I had a tame elephant waiting at the foot of the Newera Ellia Pass to assist in carrying up the baggage and maidservants.

There had been a vast amount of trouble in making all the necessary arrangements, but the start was completed, and at length we were all fairly off. In an enterprise of this kind many disappointments were necessarily to be expected, and I had prepared myself with the patience of Job for anything that might happen. It was well that I had done so, for it was soon put to the test.

Having reached Ramboddé, at the foot of the Newera Ellia Pass, in safety, I found that the carriage was so heavy that the horses were totally unable to ascend the pass. I therefore left it at the rest-house while we rode up the fifteen miles to Newera Ellia, intending to send for the empty vehicle in a few days.

The whole party of emigrants and ourselves reached Newera Ellia in safety. On the following day I sent down the groom with a pair of horses to bring up the carriage; at the same time I sent down the elephant to bring some luggage from Ramboddé.

Now this groom, "Henry Perkes," was one of the emigrants, and he was not exactly the steadiest of the party; I therefore cautioned him to be very careful in driving up the pass, especially in crossing the narrow bridges and turning the corners. He started on his mission.

The next day a dirty-looking letter was put in my hand by a native, which, being addressed to me, ran something in this style:

"Honord Zur

"I'm sorry to hinform you that the carrige and osses has met with a haccidint and is tumbled down a preccippice and its a mussy as I didn't go too. The preccippice isn't very deep bein not above heighy feet or therabouts-the hosses is got up but is very bad-the carrige lies on its back and we can't stir it nohow. Mr. -- is very kind, and has lent above a hunderd niggers, but they aint no more use than cats at liftin. Plese Zur come and see whats to be done.

"Your Humbel Servt,

"H. PERKES."

This was pleasant, certainly-a new carriage and a pair of fine Australian horses smashed before they reached Newera Ellia!

This was, however, the commencement of a chapter of accidents. I went down the pass, and there, sure enough, I had a fine bird's-eye view of the carriage down a precipice on the road side. One horse was so injured that it was necessary to destroy him; the other died a few days after. Perkes had been intoxicated; and, while driving at a full gallop round a corner, over went the carriages and horses.

On my return to Newera Ellia, I found a letter informing me that the short-horn cow had halted at Amberpussé, thirty-seven miles from Colombo, dangerously ill. The next morning another letter informed me that she was dead. This was a sad loss after the trouble of bringing so fine an animal from England; and I regretted her far more than both carriage and horses together, as my ideas for breeding some thorough-bred stock were for the present extinguished.

There is nothing like one misfortune for breeding another; and what with the loss of carriage, horses and cow, the string of accidents had fairly commenced. The carriage still lay inverted; and although a tolerable specimen of a smash, I determined to pay a certain honor to its remains by not allowing it to lie and rot upon the ground. Accordingly, I sent the blacksmith with a gang of men, and Perkes was ordered to accompany the party. I also sent the elephant to assist in battling the body of the carriage up the precipice.

Perkes, having been much more accustomed to riding than walking during his career as groom, was determined to ride the elephant down the pass; and he accordingly mounted, insisting at the same time that the mahout should put the animal into a trot. In vain the man remonstrated, and explained that such a pace would injure the elephant on a journey; threats prevailed, and the beast was soon swinging along at full trot, forced on by the sharp driving-hook, with the delighted Perkes striding across its neck, riding, an imaginary race.

On the following day the elephant-driv

er appeared at the front door, but without the elephant. I immediately foreboded some disaster, which was soon explained. Mr. Perkes had kept up the pace for fifteen miles, to Ramboddé, when, finding that the elephant was not required, he took a little refreshment in the shape of brandy and water, and then, to use his own expression, "tooled the old elephant along till he came to a standstill."

He literally forced the poor beast up the steep pass for seven miles, till it fell down and shortly after died.

Mr. Perkes was becoming an expensive man: a most sagacious and tractable elephant was now added to his list of victims; and he had the satisfaction of knowing that he was one of the few men in the world who had ridden an elephant to death.

That afternoon, Mr. Perkes was being wheeled about the bazaar in a wheelbarrow, insensibly drunk, by a brother emigrant, who was also considerably elevated. Perkes had at some former time lost an eye by the kick of a horse, and to conceal the disfigurement he wore a black patch, which gave him very much the expression of a bull terrier with a similar mark. Notwithstanding this disadvantage in appearance, he was perpetually making successful love to the maidservants, and he was altogether the most incorrigible scamp that I ever met with, although I must do him the justice to say he was thoroughly honest and industrious.

I shortly experienced great trouble with the emigrants; they could not agree with the bailiff, and openly defied his authority. I was obliged to send two of them to jail as an example to the others. This produced the desired effect, and we shortly got regularly to work.

There were now about a hundred and fifty natives employed in the tedious process of exterminating jungle and forest, not felling, but regularly digging out every tree and root, then piling, and burning the mass, and leveling the cleared land in a state to receive the plough. This was very expensive work, amounting to about thirty pounds per acre. The root of a large tree would frequently occupy three men a couple of days in its extraction, which, at the rate of wages, at one shilling per diem, was very costly. The land thus cleared was a light sandy loam, about eighteen inches in depth with a gravel subsoil, and was considered to be far superior to the patina (or natural grass-land) soil, which was, in appearance, black loam on the higher ground and of a peaty nature in the swamps.

The bailiff (Mr. Fowler) was of opinion that the patina soil was the best; therefore, while the large native force was engaged in sweeping the forest from the surface, operations were commenced according to agricultural rules upon the patinas.

A tract of land known as the "Moon Plains," comprising about two hundred acres, was immediately commenced upon. As some persons considered the settlement at Newera Ellia the idea of a lunatic, the "Moon Plain" was an appropriate spot for the experiment. A tolerably level field of twenty acres was fenced in, and the work begun by firing the patina and burning off all the grass. Then came three teams, as follows:

Lord Ducie's patent cultivator, drawn by an elephant; a skim, drawn by another elephant, and a long wood plough, drawn by eight bullocks.

The field being divided into three sections, was thus quickly pared of the turf, the patent cultivator working admirably, and easily drawn by the elephant.

The weather being very dry and favorable for the work, the turf was soon ready for burning; and being piled in long rows, much trouble was saved in subsequently spreading the ashes. This being completed, we had six teams at work, two horse, two bullock, and two elephant; and the ploughing was soon finished. The whole piece was then sown with oats.

It was an interesting sight to see the rough plain yielding to the power of agricultural implements, especially as some of these implements were drawn by animals not generally seen in plough harness at home.

The "cultivator," which was sufficiently large to anchor any twenty of the small native bullocks, looked a mere nothing behind the splendid elephant who worked it, and it cut through the wiry roots of the rank turf as a knife peels an apple. It was amusing, to see this same elephant doing the work of three separate teams when the seed was in the ground. She first drew a pair of heavy harrows; attached to these and following behind were a pair of light harrows, and behind these came a roller. Thus the land had its first and second harrowing at the same time with the rolling.

This elephant was particularly sagacious; and her farming work being completed, she was employed in making, a dam across a stream. She was a very large animal, and it was beautiful to witness her wonderful sagacity in carrying and arranging the heavy timber required. The rough trunks of trees from the lately felled forest were lying within fifty yards of the spot, and the trunks required for the dam were about fifteen feet long and fourteen to eighteen inches in diameter. These she carried in her mouth, shifting her hold along the log before she raised it until she had obtained the exact balance; then, steadying it with her trunk, she carried every log to the spot, and laid them across the stream in parallel rows. These she herself arranged, under the direction of her driver, with the reason apparently of a human being.

The most extraordinary part of her performance was the arranging of two immense logs of red keenar (one of the heaviest woods). These were about eighteen feet long and two feet in diameter, and they were in tended to lie on either bank of the stream, parallel to the brook and close to the edge. These she placed greatest with the care in their exact positions, unassisted by any one.[1] She rolled them gently over with her head, then with one foot, and keeping her trunk on the opposite side of the log, she checked its way whenever its own momentum would have carried it into the stream. Although I thought the work admirably done, she did not seem quite satisfied, and she presently got into the stream, and gave one end of the log an extra push with her head, which completed her task, the two trees lying exactly parallel to each other, close to the edge of either bank.

Tame elephants are constantly employed in building stone bridges, when the stones required for the abutments are too heavy to be managed by crowbars.

Many were the difficulties to contend against when the first attempts were made in agriculture at Newera Ellia. No sooner were the oats a few inches above ground than they were subjected to the nocturnal visits of elk and hogs in such numbers that they were almost wholly destroyed.

A crop of potatoes of about three acres on the newly-cleared forest land was totally devoured by grubs. The bull and stock were nearly starved on the miserable pasturage of the country, and no sooner bad the clover sprung up in the new clearings than the Southdown ram got hoven upon it and died. The two remaining rams, not having been accustomed to much high living since their arrival at Newera Ellia, got pugnacious upon the clover, and in a pitched battle the Leicester ram killed the Cotswold, and remained solus. An epidemic appeared among the cattle, and twenty-six fine bullocks died within a few days; five Australian horses died during the first year, and everything seemed to be going into the next world as fast is possible.

Having made up my mind to all manner of disappointments, these casualties did not make much impression on me, and the loss of a few crops at the outset was to be expected; but at length a deplorable and unexpected event occurred.

The bailiff's family consisted of a wife and daughter; the former was the perfection of a respectable farmer's wife, whose gentle manners and amiable disposition bad gained her many friends; the daughter was a very pretty girl of nineteen.

For some time Mrs. Fowler had been suffering from an illness of long standing, and I was suddenly called to join in the mournful procession to her grave. This was indeed a loss which I deeply deplored.

At length death left the little settlement, and a ray of sunshine shone through the gloom which would have made many despond. Fortune smiled upon everything. Many acres of forest were cleared, and the crops succeeded each other in rapid succession. I had, however, made the discovery that without manure nothing would thrive. This had been a great disappointment, as much difficulty lay in procuring the necessary item.

Had the natural pasturage been good, it would soon have been an easy matter to procure any amount of manure by a corresponding number of cattle; but, as it happened, the natural pasturage was so bad that no beast could thrive upon it. Thus everything, even grass-land, had to be manured; and, fortunately, a cargo of guano having arrived in the island, we were enabled to lay down some good clover and seeds.

The original idea of cultivation, driving the forests from the neighborhood of Newera Ellia, was therefore dispelled. Every acre of land must be manured, and upon a large scale at Newera Ellia that is impossible. With manure everything will thrive to perfection with the exception of wheat. There is neither lime nor magnesia in the soil. An abundance of silica throws a good crop of straw, but the grain is wanting: Indian corn will not form grain from the same cause. On the other hand, peas, beans, turnips, carrots, cabbages, etc., produce crops as heavy as those of England. Potatoes, being the staple article of production, are principally cultivated, as the price of twenty pounds per ton yields a large profit. These, however, do not produce larger crops than from four to six tons per acre when heavily manured; but as the crop is fit to dig in three months from the day of planting, money is quickly made.

There are many small farmers, or rather gardeners, at Newera Ellia who have succeeded uncommonly well. One of the emigrants who left my service returned to England in three years with three hundred pounds; and all the industrious people succeed. I am now without one man whom I brought out. The bailiff farms a little land of his own, and his pretty daughter is married; the others are scattered here and there, but I believe all are doing well, especially the blacksmith, upon whose anvil Fortune has smiled most kindly.

By the bye, that same blacksmith has the right stamp of a "better half" for an emigrant's wife. According to his own description she is a "good knock-about kind of a wife." I recollect seeing her, during a press of work, rendering assistance to her Vulcan in a manner worthy of a Cyclop's spouse. She was wielding an eighteen-pound sledgehammer, sending the sparks flying at every blow upon the hot iron, and making the anvil ring again, while her husband turned the metal at every stroke, as if attending on Nasmyth's patent steam hammer.

It has been a great satisfaction to me that all the people whom I brought out are doing well; even Henry Perkes, of elephant-jockeying notoriety, is, I believe, prospering as a groom in Madras.

[1] Directed of course by her driver.

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