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

December 31, 2012 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

 

 

Despite the mutual contempt and hostility, the tensions on the Lady Campbell remained within the bounds of what might have been described, in the English of the day, as a banyan-fight (a ‘tongue-tempest’ that ‘never rises to blows or bloodshed’)[i]. The vessel made steady progress and even when the weather turned foul, as it did on the 17th of April, the passengers were not denied the comforts of the table.

Cadet Robert Ramsay wrote in his journal§: “Last night’s rolling exceeded all we had met with off the Bay of Biscay; in our Cabins every thing broke adrift and floated about in the water which came plentifully down the hatch-ways.

 

'Storm at Sea' Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707) [Wikimedia Commons]

‘Storm at Sea’ Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707) [Wikimedia Commons]

The thumping of our cots against the trunks or sides of the cabins prevented our having much sleep. Mr. C’s bottles of lime-juice , lavender water & c were found lying on the floors without their necks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The close smell below was excessive and all forenoon the foul air could be seen rising through the hatches as if it was steam from a boiler. The Cutter was nearly lost in the night from one of the davids [davits] or large pieces of wood which support it giving way. – The day was as bad as the night. – endeavouring to keep in a sitting posture afforded excellent exercise. The milk-man fell and emptied the contents of his pitcher over himself, – a sudden lurch placed Mrs. H on her posterior close to the Lee Scuttle while coming to dinner, and last tho not least, while endeavouring to arrange my cabin I was pitched on one of my trunks and was glad to get off with a cut under one of my eyes. The scenes at the cuddy table baffle my powers of description: – “eat and drink while you can”, is the only way to get on; to have one hand at liberty for a whole minute was a rare occurrence. Legs of mutton, pork, hams, potatoes etc had no idea of remaining on their dishes: – the table-cloth was died with soup, butter, mustard, wine, beer & c. and the clothes of many shared the same fate: – the chairs were very fond of skating, making their owners measure their length upon the floor; Mr. C split Dr. H’s door with his head… It is extraordinary how the cook managed to dress the dinner in such stormy weather; there is the same variety of dishes, tarts etc as at other times; a little delay being the only difference. The present cook is a China-man who got into the ship among the Lascars; he soon became an assitant in the galley and was found to be a most expert hand, so much so as to excite the envy of his superior…

Ramsay’s journal has many other mentions of lascars and sepoys: “A lascar having struck the Serang was placed on the Poop; another Lascar with a bayonet in his hands, placed sentinel over the culprit; having begged the Serang’s pardon and said he would behave so again, he was released.”

A Lascar put on the Poop before Breakfast for stealing tobacco from one of his neighbours: –

“…  men taking in a craft load of rice for the Sepoys, there being 120 bags of about 130 lbs each, rice and red herring the chief food the sepoys, with a little mutton; amusing to see the beastly manner in which they gormandize the rice with their hands.”

January 8: A strange scene to hear the Sepoys bawling all their might in half a dozen languages.”

On occasion the passengers amused themselves with games and other diversions. Ramsay remarks of one such: “after dinner there was a game of Leap-Frog, the Lascars seemed highly amused with it.” Later Ramsay describes a theatrical evening, performed, or so the passengers believed, in the privacy of an awning on the quarterdeck. Amongst the various skits that were staged there was one of a ‘drunken Blackey’. During the performance of this piece Ramsay happened to look up: he found that many lascars were watching the skit from up above, their faces framed by rents in the awning.

And so they lived, lascars and live cargo, each watching the other’s enactments through tiny cracks in their wooden world.

On Monday June 27 the Lady Campbell sighted the coast of Bengal:

 

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After dinner we saw Saugor Island a-head; the Pilot passed close to us; we passed several buoys in fathoms and anchored off Saugor at dusk. There were 6 large Indiamen lying in the new anchorage ; – Saugor is very low and overgrown with low trees and jungles, except a small point near the anchorage where one or two sheds were seen. A great deal of money was once laid out upon it but as fast as the jungle was cleared the sea carried off the soil.”

 

 

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§ Catalogue number: JOD 5, Caird Library, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. 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.




[i] Ocington (1690), quoted in Hobson-Jobson, p. 65 (“Sir G. Birdwood tells us that this is a phrase still current in Bombay”).

 


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