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Of Fanás and Forecastles: The Indian Ocean and Some Lost Languages of the Age of Sail – 10 of 11 « Amitav Ghosh

Of Fanás and Forecastles: The Indian Ocean and Some Lost Languages of the Age of Sail – 10 of 11

Amitav Ghosh | December 31, 2012 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

 

 

Cadet Robert Ramsay’s diary§ entry for January 4, 1825, describes further trouble on the Lady Campbell: “A lascar having struck the Serang was placed on the Poop; another Lascar with a bayonet in his hands, placed sentinel over the culprit ….

 

poop_deck

 

On January 5: yet another lascar was in trouble, being “put on the Poop before Breakfast for stealing tobacco from one of his neighbours.”

Once at sea, the relations between the lascars and the others degenerated still further, leading to some oddly farcical confrontations on matters ranging from the serving of grog to personal hygiene. At noon on the 20th of January: “the Lascars were ordered to bring their beds on deck; on their refusing, Mr. Murphy ordered three of the hammocks to be cut down for that purpose; this raised a great irritation among the Lascars and the African (to whom I gave my old black waistcoat on Wednesday) even threatened Mr Murphy: – The African was ordered on the Poop but he refused to go, and when it was attempted to take him the Lascars came to his assistance; – after a considerable scuffle the African, an old surly Arab and two other ring-leaders were put in irons, chiefly by the officers; the African and another were quite furious vowing deadly revenge against the Second Captain: – I had never seen the blacks turn out in such numbers before; there was a dense crowd on the lee side, from the Poop to the forecastle; pre-eminent above the rest was the Lascar cook, – as black as ever demon was pictured – entirely naked, except a dirty rag about his waist; – and with a long charcoal stick in both hands; – several others had pieces of wood; nothing but the bayonets would set them forward, and a sepoy had a jag from one; – some of the Cadets who were below came up in a great hurry when the musquets and bayonets were called for; Mr Moore brought up his regimental sword, scabbard and all; – Mr. Corfield a cutlass; – others bayonets and Mr Burroughs brought up and flourished his walking cane, which he said was quite sufficient for these fellows; – as for myself, I stood all the time on the Poop peeling an orange; – the butcher was rubbing the sick dogs all the time with the greatest sang-froid, merely saying when any of the Lascars came too near him “Get out of the road you d-d rascal”; – at sunset the prisoners were taken down and ironed below; a watch was put over them and the ladies, especially Mrs. R was much afraid; the Butler was much offended at Mrs Clayhill’s speaking to him about the offensive smell he had from the Garlic he eats, and was appeased with much difficulty…

The next day, January 21st: “Shortly after breakfast all hands were mustered on the quarter-deck, the Europeans on one side and the Lascars on the other; the prisoners were brought up and everything being arranged the Captain began by stating his firm opinion that this disturbance among the Lascars was chiefly owing to dissatisfaction among the European sailors; that first the Bo’sun’s and then the other Messes began to refuse their Grog, for what reason they know best, and yesterday when the Lascars resisted the officers of the ship, with sticks in their hands, not above three sailors came to the officers’ assistance, but stood looking on, on the forecastle; – that there was not a more easily managed people in the world than Lascars, and that even if he had given the seacunnies grog (a thing never done before), if that was any object; – that in future he should no more trouble himself whether the Lascars assisted in navigating the vessel or no; – during this harangue the Captain was repeatedly interrupted by a sailor with a broken nose called Nells, who said he was the first that refused grog & he then addressed the Serang on refusing to bring up his bedding, and his allowing his men to resist the officers taking a man aft who had even threatened the 1st Mate; that he would now make an example of these four men and if ever a Lascar lifted, or threatened to lift, a stick to any officer he should be shot whatever should be the consequence, and that he (the Serang) should not leave the vessel till his conduct was inquired into by justice; the Capn then repeated to the African the expressions he had used to Mr. M and descanted on the heinousness of his crime as intelligibly as possible; then turning to the Lascars he shewed them the sticks they had used, and threatened summary punishment to whoever should shew the least disaffection in future; the African was then tied up and his shoulder bared, rather against his will, and the gunner stood all ready with the Cat in his hands; in the mean time both Serangs begged for the criminals release, and the Capn at last yielded, or seemed to yield to their solicitations, on condition that if any Lascar behaved in such a manner again, both Serangs and Tindals should be flogged as well as the culprit; — when the African was to all appearances just about to be flogged, half of the Lascars went away to the forecastle rather than see his punishment; – the almost naked cook made a prominent figure again amongst the motley group; his looks were as scowling as ever and altogher he was a perfect representationof the D_l without wings; – the other Lascars seemed quite submissive when all were assembled & the Capn was just about to speak a pistol was heard to go off in Mr M’s cabin; a servant had been loading it when it accidentally went off close to Mr. Strathfield; the ball hit the roof and retorted back on Mrs S.; on the report of the pistol the greatest anxiety was depicted on the face of the Lascars; plenty of arms had been taken out of the arms chest in case of necessity, but none were brought on deck; when the prisoners were released the Lascars went about their duties with the greatest alacrity… When the men were called out to set the fore stun’sail yesterday afternoon, the Lascars refused to come up; Mr. Murphy went down and told them if they did not work we should never arrive at Calcutta; “Ah” says they, “When we get to Calcutta, we will take you to the Police.

 

 

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§ Catalogue number: JOD 5, Caird Library, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (see also my post of Dec 27). The text of this journal has not, to my knowledge, ever been published. This transcription is mine and I have retained the original spellings, punctuation etc. I would like to thank the Museum and its staff for their courtesy and co-operation.

 

 


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