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Henry Ancrum: A Tale of the Last War in New Zealand, Volume 1

Chapter II

page 17

Chapter II.

Every person has read accounts of voyages. Every person knows the style of diary which young gentlemen and ladies keep.—Friday, 5th August. Fine day. "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer." Dead calm. Very hot. Ship motionless. Thought of "Ancient Mariner," and that it was so like "A painted ship upon a painted ocean." 12 o'clock, saw some flying-fish. 3 p.m., saw a ship which went the other way, so provoking. 4 p.m. dinner. After dinner second mate caught a shark, &c. &c. So we will not inflict a long account of Malcolm Butler's voyage to Bombay on the page 18reader, but merely mention a few incidents which occurred during the course of it.

There was on hoard a certain Major Brennan, of the Indian local army, formerly called the Company's service; this old gentleman had served his country for some thirty years, had an extremely nervous and shaky manner, and had one most extraordinary peculiarity, which was, that whenever he told any story, however serious or solemn the subject might be, he always burst into fits of laughter. On one occasion he was describing the way in which the native regiment to which he belonged had suffered from cholera, and went on as follows:—

"Ah, sir, Arcot and Arnee hot places, but not so hot as Cossitollah. Devilish hot place that. We had the cholera very bad there, sir. Ha, ha, ha! Three hundred men in hospital, sir; most of them died, page 19sir; most of them died. Ha, ha, ha! Ho, ho, ho!"

A passenger inquired if they were well supplied with doctors.

"Oh yes, sir, lots of doctors, shoals of them. Ha, ha, ha! But did no good, sir. Doctors can't do much good in bad cases of cholera. Indeed I have seen very few army doctors who did much good anywhere—don't know much when they come into the army. Crammed, sir; crammed, sir, for the examination,—ha, ha, ha!—and never open a book afterwards. Ha, ha, ha! Ho, ho, ho!"

Now the doctor of the ship was one of the class almost always found in passenger vessels making long voyages. He is invariably described in the ship's advertisement as an "experienced surgeon." Who has not read these words with the greatest confidence?

page 20

"The splendid frigate-built ship, Narcissus, A 1 at Lloyd's and carries an experienced surgeon." But what is the reality? The "experienced surgeon" generally turns out to be a gentleman who has just walked the hospitals, and who is engaged by the owners for the voyage for the moderate sum of about twenty-five pounds, and the run of his teeth, and who often renders it rather difficult for the passengers to eat their dinner by describing interesting operations which have taken place at Guy's Hospital.

Now, strange as it may appear, the gentleman above mentioned was very indignant at the way in which the Major had spoken of army doctors; for although he had nothing to do with the array, and generally tried to insinuate that he would rather not be in it if he could, yet still they were doctors, and doctors always cling page 21together. He said nothing at the time, but afterwards took every opportunity of contradicting the Major, a proceeding which led to the most furious disputes; disputes so furious that the Major actually sometimes forgot to laugh—a thing which had not occurred to him for the last twenty years. On one of these occasions the doctor had rather the better of his adversary, and indulged in various expressions denoting triumph, when Mrs. Brennan, who had overheard the argument from her cabin, and who was a lady from the Emerald Isle, and moreover of a very excitable temperament, rushed forth and exclaimed—

"Oh, Brennan, Brennan! you call yourself a Meejor in the army, and allow yourself to be put down by a dirty doctor?"

Poor Smith! it was a sad blow; the name stuck to him, no amount of ablution page 22was of any avail during the voyage; indeed, whilst he remained in the ship, he never lost the nickname of the "dirty doctor." But we are sorry to say Mrs. Brennan's peculiarities brought upon her certain little inflictions which we consider it our duty as impartial historians to chronicle. On one occasion one of the passengers descended to the cabin a little after dark, and said in a solemn voice, "Oh, Brown, there is a leak in the ship!"

"You don't say so, Jones!" said Brown.

"Oh yes," said Jones, "and four feet water in the hold."

"Oh, Brennan, Brennan!" screamed Mrs. Brennan, "there's a lake in the ship and four feet water in the hould, and you sleeping there like a hog."

But the commonest trick was one of the younger passengers standing with both feet page 23on Mrs. Brennan's skylight; on which a red-faced Irish girl, Mrs. Brennan's servant, would come up on deck, and say—

"Plaise, sur, mee mistress says she wishes ye'd take yer fut off her bul's eye."

After a prosperous voyage of rather more than three months our travellers reached Bombay, and entered its magnificent harbour. Few that have ever viewed that scene can easily forget it. On the left, as you approach, lies the Island of Colaba, with its tall graceful lighthouse at the southern extremity, to warn voyagers of the dangers of an extensive reef which juts out in that direction; further on, and in the centre of the island, stands its church (erected by subscription in memory of the gallant men who fell during the disastrous operation of the Cabool war) surrounded by the loftiest cocoa-nut trees, whose feathery foliage seems ever waving in the page 24breeze. As we advance, a causeway is seen to connect Colaba with the large island on which Bombay is built. The next object that meets the view are the ramparts of the town, surrounded by a glacis of the brightest green, which slopes down to the harbour on one side of the island, and towards the waters of Back Bay on the other; and above all frown the higher walls of the citadel. Beyond, and further up the harbour, we see the native town with its countless mass of houses of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions, and of styles of architecture which baffle description. On the right, as the ship sails in, are passed some lovely islands rich with all the luxuriance of oriental foliage, and further back on the right, and also in front, the scene is closed by the stupendous range of mountains called the Western Ghauts, the great backbone of page 25the peninsula of Hindostan, which rise in the most fantastic shapes, sometimes as sheer precipices, sometimes like gigantic castles, and sometimes in terraced slopes, to a height of about five thousand feet above the level of the sea.