Advice to Officers in India/Chapter 14

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CHAPTER XIV.


1. LEAVE TO SEA—FORMS.— When a sick officer arrives at the Presidency having been recommended by a division medical committee to proceed to sea, he must present his case to the garrison surgeon, or a presidency surgeon; and if he concurs in the original recommendation, the invalid must appear before the medical board in person, if able to do so; or if unable to leave his room, one of the members of the board visits him, and on the board's giving their final approval, he next applies for leave. Previous to his doing so, he must obtain vouchers from the presidency paymaster, the military auditor-general, the accountant-general, and if of the medical service,from the presidency dispensary; that there are no public demands against him; and furnished with these, he then finally submits his application through the assistant adjutant-general at the presidency, and his leave is granted. These forms of office are a very serious matter to any one in delicate health, and generally require eight or ten days to get through them; but there are army agents to be got at all the presidencies, who negociate such affairs for their constituents.

2. PRECAUTIONS.—Though no change contributes so certainly and rapidly to convalescence as going to sea, yet proper precautions are necessary before embarking, and if the invalid hurries on board-ship without these, he will soon have occasion to repent of it, and get worse instead of better.

The P. and O. Steamers, crowded with one or two hundred passengers, are not the conveyances for one seriously indisposed; where privacy, peace and quiet are unknown, and the whole frame from stem to stern is inconstant vibration; where he must share a space of six feet square, with one or two, perhaps, as great invalids as himself, and where even if he had a cabin to himself, especially on the lower deck, the heat would render it intolerable. Even the magnificent sailing ships in port are not to be fixed upon at hazard, for they differ as widely as their captains in their comfort and accommodation . No two things differ so widely as a passenger-ship lying at anchor in the Hoogly for the inspection of passengers, and the same ship fully laden and under sail at sea; in the river all light, and air, and peace, and quietness; at sea,perhaps all dark, damp and unventilated; intolerably hot and unwholesome; the ports instead of admitting fresh air and the light of day, admitting nothing but salt water and the light of the sea, the heat and perspiration rendering the cabin untenable. The situation of an invalid under such circumstances, who requires more free air than a man in health,and is unable to leave his cabin, or his cot, is most distressing, and can be conceived only by one who has witnessed it. It was once my misfortune to attend a brother officer in a violent fever so situated, and during a gale of wind, and he soon became delirious and died. I would strongly dissuade any invalid against engaging a cabin on the lower deck of any ship, not excepting the magnificent ships of Messrs. Green & Co., or Smith & Co. A cabin on the poop will be one-third more expense,but this must not be thought of when the recovery of health is concerned. At the same time, I consider a voyage to England in a poop cabin of one of the above companies' ships, with a good table and a pleasant party of passengers, more likely to restore a person to health than any other possible means he can have recourse to, in the same space of time. Having obtained leave to sea, the invalid will do well to be on board his ship the day before she drops down the river; he will thus have time to put everything in its proper place and lash it down. A small private store of jam, raspberry vinegar, arrow-root and tapioca, and a box of spices, if in very delicate health, and a native servant will be desirable. A milch goat will also be very useful. She will give little trouble, and can be fed and housed with the ship's stock. Let him by all means take a swinging cot with him.

Making ones will is at all times a serious matter, few people like to think of it,but postpone it to some future opportunity. This is a great mistake, for in the event of the invalid's dying intestate in the Colonies, those most dear to him may, in consequence, have much difficulty, and be subject to years of delay before they can recover his property. Let him, herefore,have his will made in due form, registered, or left with his agents. But every officer ought to have his will made when in good health, so as not to be obliged to add to his despondency when ill.

The usual way of drawing one's pay while absent from India, is to authorise some house of agency in Calcutta to draw it monthly, receiving in return a letter of credit on the different places he may visit,for so much a month.

The last public document to be attended to, is the pilot's certificate. Blank forms will be given him by the adjutant-general, to be signed by the pilot on his leaving the ship, and his leave of absence will be calculated there from.

There is every facility in making the voyage to the Straits and China, both by steam and by sailing vessels, but where time is no object, and where the chief benefit to be obtained is at sea, I think the sading-vessel holds out most advanatages to the invalid.

3. PENANG.— The Straits and China is a favourite resort, especially in hot weather, for it is curious, that the climate of the Straits, though under the line, is less hot and less oppressive than during the warmest season in Bengal. Europeans do not dread the sun there as they do in India. Penang, or Prince of Wales Island, was in former years a good deal frequented, but now few visitors spend any time there. George Town, the capital, stands upon a large tract of level ground on the mainland side of the island. It is but of small extent, and the houses of the few residents are widely scattered, but it contains no hotel for the accommodation of travellers. The site of the town is so little raised above the level of the sea, that a large portion of it is flooded at high water; and where the sea is banked out, the soil is flowing with water, and converted into rice fields. Large tracts are planted with nutmegs and cloves, and nearly equal portions are in a state of nature, overgrown with mangrove and other jungle. The mountains are very steep on all sides, and clothed in deep forests. On the summit of the highest mountain, rising to 2,000 feet, stands a Government-house, occasionally occupied by the governor of the Straits; there are several other country houses perched amongst the tops of the hills, and available for rent. The rains and fogs are very frequent and very heavy; and the temperature is about ten degrees lower than that of the town; 72, while below it is 82 degrees, but it is a very dull abode for a stranger. There is much trouble in obtaining supplies, and few people like a long residence there.

The population of Penang is extremely mixed, being Malays, Burmese, Chinese, and Hindostannies. Penang is one of the penal settlements of India, and a large number of felons are there undergoing punishment. A resident magistrate, and an assistant-surgeon are stationed here, and the wing of a regiment from Madras.

4. MALACCA. is the next station in proceeding down the Straits. It is very little frequented by strangers; the country is low and swampy, here and there varied by a little rising hill. The scenery is not agreable, either dense groves of cocoa-nuts or impenetrable forests. The atmosphere is intensely damp;the sky generally cloudy and overcast, with frequent heavy showers. The town is of considerable extent, of Dutch construction, and may contain 15,000 inhabitants, of whom Chinese and Portuguese form a large proportion. The Chinese are the most wealthy, and have establised themselves here many years; intelligent and liberal in opinion, and polite, and even hospitable to Europeans, who honour them by partaking of their hospitality.

5. SINGAPORE.— This is the principal settlement in the Straits, and the residence of the Governor, and is rapidly rising into a place of very great importance. It is the great half-way house between India and China, and the emporium of the trade of the Eastern Archipelago. The harbour does not admit of ships entering it, but there is an excellent roadstead with a fine sandy beach and no surf to prevent a boat from landing. The town is built upon a plain raised only a few feet above the sea, and large tracts are daily flooded by the tide. The houses of the Europeans are substantially, even elegantly built, and the interior is studded with nutmeg plantations and pretty villas, with numerous roads of the very best description. There are two good hotels here, several good boarding-houses, and houses may readily be got furnished for rent. There is a large European society, principally mercantile, much convivialty and good fellowship prevads; and the visitor in general meets with a hearty welcome. A wing of a Madras regiment is stationed here, and the Recorder holds his court.

The population is exceedingly mixed, consisting of Dutch from Java, Spaniards from Manilla, Portuguese from Macao. The Chinese form the most numerous class,and are men of great enterprise in the commercial world; a large fleet of junks is at certain seasons anchored in the roads, with innumerable boats from the innumerable islands in the Eastern seas. In fact, in no part of the world can be seen a greater diversity of race than in Singapore.

The climate, though a hot one, is considered healthy, every morning has its sunshine and its sea-breeze, and every afternoon its cool refreshing shower, and the nights are so cool and congenial that a light covering is agreeable. Singapore has, however, no cold weather, with a series of cloudy, clear and rainy days, and a temperature seldom under 80° throughout the year. It is, therefore, not a place to halt at, longer than the novelty excited, ten days will satisfy the stranger and make him willing to leave.

6. JAVA.— When at Singapore, a convenient opportunity may be found once a month of visiting Java. The Dutch government have a steamer ready to receive the European mails, and convey them to Batavia. From all I have read and heard of Java, a month's tour throughout the island would well repay the traveller. One may drive post all over it, with every convenience, and at an elevation of 6 to 7,000 feet, with a European temperature. The day has gone by, when Batavia was considered a pest-house and Java a plantation of Upas trees. I have conversed with many intelligent Europeans who lived many years on the island, and they have invariably spoken of its climate in the most favourable terms.

7. MACAO.— The best season to visit China is the month of August or September, going up with the S. West Moonsoon; admitting of ample time to see all that is to be seen in Canton and its outer waters, and of returning in December or January by the N. East moonsoon. A month may be spent pleasantly at Macao and Hong-Kong.

Macao stands on a fine sheltered bay upon a small rocky Peninsula, cut off from all communication with the main land,by a wall thrown across its Isthmus, thus converting it, as it were,into an island. This barrier is carefully guarded by Chinese soldiers, and no European is allowed to pass it. Macao is a Portuguese settlement and is very strongly fortified; the town is most irregularly built,the streets extremely narrow,crooked, up and down hill, paved with large masses of stone of the rudest description, or a series of stairs, quite impassable for carriages or horses, and only fit for foot passengers;but the Strand is a delightful residence and the abode of all Europeans. Macao is nominally governed by the Portuguese, but the Chinese who form the chief mass of the population, overlook all their actions,and often thwart their projects. Macao was in former years the family residence of the European merchants of Canton, and still is a favourite abode, even with Hong-Kong as a rival. There are some good hotels here, but extravagant in their charges; I am inclined to think favourably of the climate of Macao; it is by no means a cool place in the S. West moonsoon, but the refreshing sea breeze makes ample amends for the intensity of the heat.

8. HONG-KONG.— Hong-Kong is one of the numerous islands at the mouth of the river of Canton, and at the close of the late Chinese war, became a British colony. Possessing a fine harbour, it was selected as the emporium of Chinese trade, and the very rapid rise of the chief town Victoria, shews that it was judiciously chosen on that account. The town of Victoria stands upon the steep shores of the harbour, the roads and streets are all scooped out of the solid rock,and rise one above the other in a succession of terraces. Unfortunately, Victoria has turned out very unhealthy; a malignant fever of a bilious character is often epidemic there, and proves very fatal. The European regiment stationed there, is occasionally decimated by it, and the casualties amongst the residents become at times quite alarming. Macao is still preferred as a residence, though very inconvenient for the transaction of business.

9. CANTON.—This is the last place in the world to resort to in search of health. The confinement imposed upon the residents is excessive, and one might as well live in a prison. Gentlemen in the receipt of some thousands a year are glad to be allowed to rent a pig-stye of a house at the furthest end of a dark and dirty lane, shut out from all ventilation, sometimes without being able to command a ray of sunshine unless at the tops of the houses. Out of doors they have nothing but an acre of ground for exercise in front of the factories; this is during the day used as a marketplace, and at night it is polluted with every sort of nuisance.

Strangers dare not, unless at the risk of their lives,venture within the walls of Canton,nor take a walk into the country without getting pelted with stones, they are equally debarred from sailing on the river, unless within certain boundaries, and have the same chance of rough usage afloat as on shore; they are not even permitted to have their wives, or families in Canton.

There is here a large society of Europeans of many nations, and I have no where met with more genuine hospitality. There is little or no intercourse between the principal Chinese functionaries and the foreign merchants;the former shut themselves up in the city and leave all transactions with the Fanquis or foreign devils as they are called, to the Hong merchants, great men upon Change, whose word is as good as their bond, and who can give bonds for thousands, between whom and the Europeans mutual confidence and respect prevails.

With all its drawbacks, Canton is a place that will well repay the stranger for a visit, provided he has strength of constitution enough to rough it. He will find himself quite in a new world, and yet in a world full of originality of enterprise and of interest; and feel impressed with the opinion that we outside barbarians have been indebted to them for many of the comforts, conveniences and refinements of society, with this difference that whereas they have stood still for the last two or three thousand years, we have continued to improve upon their antitypes.

I have thus furnished a very brief sketch of the places towards the East, resorted to by invalids from India, and as I have spent some time at all of them, I could easily have drawn more largely upon my notes, but more details would be out of place at present. When an officer has no organic disease and is merely suffering from debility or slow but long continued fever, or when a long residence at an out station has rusted the springs of life and deranged his nervous system, no voyage of the same duration promises such advantages as one to the Straits and China. While on board ship, he will every day see some new phenomena for which these seas are remarkable, and he can no where set his foot on shore without meeting wash, interesting varieties of the human race, that cannot fad to absorb his attention, and turn the morbid current of his thoughts into new and more congenial channels; six months will suffice for this whole tour.