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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Chapter II

Chapter II.

After a stay at Kafrez-Zaiad of a couple of hours, we re-entered the train and started on our journey. We seemed to have created some interest among the natives: so many of us all dressed alike. At every stopping place they crowded round the train selling water. They offered very little else, and they did not drive much trade in that as it had not the look of having issued from a clear running brook or spring; nor did it appear to have been filtered. Several natives were very inquisitive. They wanted to know what we were, and where we were going. Some of the replies were highly amusing. One said we were navvies going to India to make railways. This didn't seem to take, nor did another that we were pilgrims off to pay our homage to their great Mahomet page 10 The little country villages dotted here and there reminded me very much of the beavers' houses. A large number were clustered on a space, in many cases not exceeding a quarter of an acre, and it would have a name. Fancy that! Those people thought they were of much importance, no doubt; they must be a happy lot. No Town Councils or Road Boards to elect; no politics to break them down; no one scrambling after more than his share of the rates to make his footpath better than his neighbour's. But all the money to be got in one of those villages would not make a chap rich. If one broached the 'Single Tax' to them they'd jump at it and say we always pay double and treble taxes.

The system of irrigation is interesting, but like everything else it is as old as the hills. A large beam pivotted on an upright pole, at each end is a rude construction to take up water. This is conveyed by a trough to the other end, which is lowered to discharge the water into another paddock. Thus they cover large areas of country. I have heard many complain of the shaking of our trains, but they would ascertain what real shaking means if they had taken a trip at that time.

The next branch of the Nile, The Damietta branch, is crossed by an iron bridge. When drawing near Cairo we got a glimpse of the Pyramids. We reached that city at about 5 p.m. The stationmaster, who was an Englishman, turned out in evening dress. He expected, he said, to have had the pleasure of seeing some red. coats. We only had about fifteen minutes to stay at the old city. Everyone would have liked a few hours there, but that was not in the contract. The line from Cairo to Suez is a thing (or was then) to be remembered. Entering the desert, just at nightfall, is one of the most desolate scenes imaginable, the vast dreary space being nothing but drifting sands.

The Fellahs, or Egyptian labourers, along the line, have to depend on the trains for water, and great is their joy when it arrives at one of the stopping places. A mob of them rushes down to the train, as if attacking it, and I must candidly admit that many of us drew our clasp-knives, the only weapons we had, prepared to sell our lives dearly. We soon became acquainted with the real cause of commotion. The carrying of water by the trains was no small matter, and a few remarks here will, I think, not be out of place. The want of water cuts down the profits of the line. For 30 miles page 11 water has to be taken from Cairo, and it will be sufficient to state that locomotive power equal to half that required to draw the train was constantly employed in carrying water for the boilers alone. The practical effect of the want of water, and the gradients, was to limit the number of trains, and to reduce the average weight from 130 tons to 40 tons. Thus the average cost of transport on the Cairo and Suez line, as compared with the Alexandra and Cairo line, was as 2½ to 1. The power that cost 1s. on the latter cost 2s. 6d. on the former. With regard to the gradients from Cairo to Suez, the line ascends until a summit of 800 feet is reached. Then it descends 850 feet to Suez. But at the time I refer to, the line only went within 25 miles of Suez, but it was, of course, surveyed. The line surveyed by Mr R.. Stevenson, M.P., was almost a dead level, and took in a much more fertile country. It commenced at Zagazig, a branch already reaching there from Bena Lassal, and travelled down the Wadi Toumilat or ancient land of Goschen. What the railways now are, I have not to deal with, I am speaking of over thirty years ago. No doubt Egypt has kept pace with the times, influenced as it is by the great powers. The first line, after a lot of talk, was commenced in 1851, and in spite of the many drawbacks inseparable from such undertakings in a country like Egypt, it was opened from Alexandra to Cairo, a distance of 131 miles, early in 1856. The average cost per mile was £6,700 with a single line of rails, but an embankment wide enough for two. I heard that when the wheelbarrows were handed over to the Fellahs they filled them right enough, but one took hold of the handles and another the wheels and carried them, to the place of discharge. That system was more in keeping with their ancient customs. At Suez the Steam Ship Company keeps a tankship to supply the steamers with water, brought from a distance of a day's sail.

We arrived at the terminus at about 10 p.m. Here we were again marched into a large marquee, to another spread laid out for all hands. This was a very welcome sight, and it is needless to say that we soon eased the tables. We had not touched anything since we left Kaffrez-Zaiad, at mid-day, as there were no stores at which to purchase, and the supply on the tables did not admit of putting anything away for the journey. I was fortunate enough to bring with me from Malta a box of cigars, and this eased off the pangs of hunger; but it is astonishing how little thought one gives to eating page 12 when rushing through a new country, especially one like Egypt, gazing with open mouth at every little thing to be seen. We soon despatched all the eatables, and were anxiously gazing round for another course, but alas! we gazed in vain, and when we found waiting would bring no substantial result, we cleared out to have a look about. Being midnight, and in the very heart of the desert of Egypt, the sight was not an interesting one, but to make up in some way for what we could not see, our ears were constantly greeted with the gobblings of the natives, who were busy getting the teams ready to convey us to Suez. Shortly, to our joy, the bugle sounded "grog oh!" This somewhat startled the natives, being of course rather an unusual thing in that lively part. It took nearly 50 caravans to accommodate us, four horses in each—or two mules and two horses and two postillions. The work performed, and the very choice broken English used, to show us that we had not all the English language to ourselves, was more than amusing. I think it was about midnight when we got on our way. The scene and noise were something for all present to remember to the remainder of their days. We had no asses. They were left for the remainder of the regiment to follow us, which they did eight months later. They did this part of the journey on donkeys. Let anyone picture to himself a lot of fellows over six feet on small Egyptian donkeys, and a lad poking each up behind with some pointed instrument, and fancy men having to hold up their legs to prevent them trailing on the ground. In time this would become rather tedious, and they would, in order to stretch their legs, walk now and then, still keeping the animals under them, who, it may be presumed, did not object to it. Though I did not see this, I can fully understand what it was. Many jokes were coined in after years. Mounted infantry was unknown in those days, but many expressed themselves to the effect that should Her Majesty the Queen ever decide to turn one of her foot regiments into one of cavalry, the "Die Hards" had the first claim, after their ride through Egypt on donkeys. We are all pretty familiar with the kind of English foreigners usually learn first. Well, on this trip, they did ample justice to their tutors. We had nothing to view now, being on our way to Suez, so we tried to steal forty winks, but that was almost impossible, for about every dozen yards or so the wheels would come in contact with a lump of rock, and many were page 13 the cries to the drivers, in language more forcible than polite, to keep clear of them. Otherwise the drive was a pleasant one, and reminded many (but not me) of the time they were at home doing a drive in the family conveyances. Sleep we found impossible. The postillions, I think, must have made up their minds that we should not slumber, judging from the way they kept their tongues going, either at their animals or at each other. Their noise and the jolts over the stones caused special prayers to be offered up for their safety. Animals were changed about every seven miles. The sun was just rising when we arrived at Suez. We could see the P. and O. Company's steamer "Alma" out in the offing waiting for us.

We had but little time to wait before we were conveyed in a tug steamer to the "Alma." Consequently, Suez was not surveyed; but looking at it from our halting place, we thought we did not miss much of a treat. About 4 p.m. everything was ready for the start up the Red Sea, and we we were all called together to pay a parting compliment to Colonel Packlington, who was just going ashore after seeing us finally fixed for the last stage of our journey. Never, I think, did two hundred men shout more heartily than when called on by Major Logan (whose death as General Logan was cabled out on 31st January, '90) for this purpose. He referred to the unpleasant incident when embarking at Malta; but he said, "On my return there I shall make such a glowing report of your conduct since then to your colonel (now General Sir H. J. Warre, K.C.B.), that I feel sure he will forgive all. He said it was impossible for men to behave better than we had, and with nothing but compliments the tug steamer moved off amidst loud hurrahs. This was 7th October, 1857. We had two desires now—one was to sleep, and the other to have a look at the Red Sea—and this latter was most prominent, so we left the former till night, for who knew but that we were passing over the place where Pharaoh and his host met their doom when rushing after poor old Moses and his tribe. Everyone began to make use of any little biblical knowledge he possessed. A priest on board pointed out what was supposed to be the spot where Pharaoh and his host were coaxed to follow Moses. Moses' rock was pointed out, or rather, the direction in which it lay; but he pointed to the Egyptian side, whereas I have always understood that this happened after he crossed the Red Sea. One and page 14 all felt pleased that Moses got safely over and that Pharaoh didn't; that he only met a just doom. Some doubted whether such a thing ever occurred; others maintained that it had, for was not one of the chariot wheels fished up not long ago. This was considered by some as solid proof of the great event—for a great event it must be considered for water to open out, leaving a dry path for the poor pursued ones to pass. At sundown we witnessed a terrible scuffle. All the Lascars became suddenly all life, and it was some few minutes before we knew what it was all about; they had to take post at sundown in all parts, and they did swarm up the rigging, and seemed thoroughly up to their work. There were several on board besides us—two hundred gentlemen, and others off to the East. Next morning I was up feasting my eyes on the scenery. At breakfast the natives were squatted about in groups as many as could find room round a large dish of currie and rice. This was not a very remarkable operation to watch. Unfortunately, when passing a group my shadow happened to cross their tucker. In an instant they sprang up and heaved the contents of the dish overboard, and scowled at me in a way that said as plain as words: "My boy, if we had you away from the crowd of Christian dogs, we'd soon put you in a way that your disgusting shadow should never pollute the food of the 'Faithful' again." None of these people had a very warm feeling towards any white folks. The Indian mutiny was then in full swing. We soon became sufficiently acquainted with their custom so as not to interfere with their appetites. I became acquainted with the butcher on board—a European. He said: "I'll show you chaps some fun by-and-bye. You know those fellows have a great dread of a pig." That day he carried out his promise. He let a pig loose just as they were about the deck, and Mr. Porker was only two glad to have a good run after being penned up so long. The yells and screams of the Lascars were terrible. The rigging was lined with them, and there they remained till Mr. Porker was recaptured and put up. This none of our men or the European sailors were in a hurry to do. This was the joke the butcher promised us. We had a pretty warm voyage. One of the crew—a Chinaman—got a flogging at the hands of one who appeared to be well able to do the operation justice. He had purchased some article of one of our men's outfits—a very rough and bad character he was—and he himself was punished for selling. This was the page 15 last trip made by the "Alma" from Suez, for she was wrecked on her return trip. She was purchased by a Parsee merchant in Aden, and when he went down to inspect his new purchase, she gently lowered herself under water, and he had to return somewhat crestfallen. An officer of ours, Lieutenant Waller, was on his way back to rejoin headquarters at Malta, and the wreck occasioned his return to Aden. This officer, afterwards in this colony, was fired at by an ambuscade in Taranaki on the 25th May, 1863, 21 days after the murder of Lieutenant Traggett, Dr. Hope, and party. Mr. Waller escaped, but his horse was killed. This event led to the capture of Hori, the half-caste, who had been concerned in the murder, on whom were found several articles of jewellery belonging to the murdered party, and who was duly tried for murder and sentenced to death.