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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Chapter III

Chapter III.

The second charge for the attempt on the life of Lieut. Walker, for which he was sentenced to penal servitude for life. Strange affair! Nothing further of note or worth recording transpired on the voyage. We were all anxious to get to our journey's end, and after passing through the Straits of Babel-Mandeb—the key to the Red Sea—we duly arrived about 10 p.m. on the 13th October. We had not the good fortune of a good look at the shore until next morning. A few lights were visible and that was all we could see, but we could feel that we had come into a very warm spot.

Next morning at break of day we were on the alert. I am going to borrow now, I cannot do better than give the account of Aden from the pen of Dr. W. H. Russell, which he gave in the same year. He sailed in in daylight, and this is what he says of it:—"Early next morning we saw in the distance a line of crags like shark's teeth rising out of the water. These resolved themselves into sharp saw-backed ridges of rock cliffs, and peaked mountains of rich rufous and vandyke brown, streaked with reds and blacks as we approached. Surely these are Vulcan's workshops; here are the dust and ash heaps of the Cyclonean forges. Not one little tree, not one blade of grass, not a patch of verdure the size of a man's hand! The eye seeks the tumuli in expectation of the smoke of the subterranean fires in which those rocks were melted and cast out in beds of scoria and ashes. The blue sea seems actually page 16 to fizz at the base of those tremendous hills of slag, and to boil and splutter as it heaves against them. High in the air on top of the highest peak a flag is flying from a lofty staff. The old Union Jack is flaunting a welcome to us. A house looking like a child's Noah's Ark can be detected near the staff. Round by the bluff and sloping sheets of ashes we glide swiftly; here and there white straight lines run across the ravines which seem to topple over us. These resolve themselves into walls of solid masonry, tunnels and archways are seen high up amid the crags, a round building of stonework with black specks on the flat roof looks very like a fort, and see! as we round the point and run into the shallow bay before us, there is another from which the dull black eyes of the cannon are staring right at us. The bay held some half-dozen merchantmen, a flotilla of Arab dhows, an odd-looking steam sloop, and a small armed schooner. The cinders seem to have been shovelled away to form this bay. Before us there is a row of a few white houses one storey high, thatched with reeds, rising out of ashes and backed up by mountains of cinders. Here and there the cinders rise into cones over the bay, and on the top of these cones are perched some half a dozen isolated houses, one or two huts on the beach complete the public and private buildings of the port, bar the military station which is perched in an extinct volcanic crater, about three miles away. (Had the doctor walked this as I did he would willingly call it six miles.) Travellers have sought in vain to convey to their readers an impression of the extreme aridity and desolation of Aden." When we got a good look at the port we all exclaimed, "Heavens, what a den!" Through a similar expression, I believe, it got its name. Not unlikely. As a matter of course we had our work cut out for that day. Though we had nothing very laborious to do we were kept pretty busy. Natives of all kinds were discharging, and on getting ashore we had nothing to do but march off to our quarters some six miles away from Steamer Point, the name of the port. We thought that just about as much as any white man should be expected to do in one day. The impression first formed was somewhat changed as we arrived in sight of the town, though that dear old soul Josh Billings says that first impressions are lasting. That applies no doubt to the sting of a hornet. We got up and were soon located in our new home.

page 17

Soon a very good dinner of currie, rice, &c., and some beautiful white bread, was served up. Coming to view matters philosophically, we began (I did at any rate) to feel that there were lots in the world not much better off than we were. The attendants were in full dress—black—the only white or lighter colour about them being the bits of dirty rag—carelessly thrown round their loins, and the whites of their eyes. They didn't use white gloves like European waiters, and my first thought was whether I could relish the food that they had prepared and brought us in that 'get up,' but as soon as I tasted the currie I went for it right off, and glanced round in search of more. One very particular chap (Pat Sullivan) started grumbling at the food, and called it the nastiest currie he ever tasted in his life. I believe this, for I think, like myself, he had not tasted such a thing before.

We had not much to do in Aden, and we had a long time to do it in. We were not allowed to walk out between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. This was to our advantage, for at about midday there were but a few inches of shadow, and the sun looked to be so close that one might hit it with a stone. The mirage was so thick and danced at such a rate that nothing, not even the barren scoria hills, seemed to stand still. At 5 p.m. some went out to have a look at the town; others were more patient. There were no 'pubs' to rush to. Goodness help soldiers in such a country if they had free access to all sorts of liquor! We could procure in our own canteen quite as much good English stout as we needed, and this is the salvation of men in such places. Arrack—a good wholesome spirit—is plentiful at one anna a glass (1½d); porter about the same per pint. I don't think I went out the first day; but this I can venture to assert—that before a week I had surveyed and knew as much about Aden as anyone who arrived with me.

I think it was the first evening I went out I met a Sepoy officer in uniform going to visit a guard. I was in a bit of a fix. I did not know whether I had to salute him or not. When I got within a few paces of the officer, he threw out his arm and gave a long, sweeping, military salute. It nearly took my breath away, and he must have noticed the expression of surprise I exhibited. I returned the salute, but not with so much gusto as he gave it. I said to myself—"What! Must these officers salute us—white chaps, regardless altogether of rank?" After relating this on my return, the men all looked upon it as elevating, and Pat page 18 Sullivan and a few more did their utmost to meet native officers. Not long after this, Pat, excited, roared out, "Ah, who wouldn't he in Eden now, when we get saluted by officers?"

I must say that, whatever feeling the Sepoys entertained before we arrived, they were very civil after. Great precautions were taken for giving alarm, &c., if anything occurred. There were two or three batteries always manned overlooking the lines of the Sepoys, and a signal to us of any outbreak among them at night was to be a rocket thrown into our square. Matters went on very quietly for some time. The order to the sentry was to give the alarm should he see such a thing thrown. Not far from us was a signalling station for vessels coming from the Bombay direction. The one to do a similar office for any coming from the Red Sea is the one Mr Russell refers to as being perched high up. When a vessel came in at night, in addition to a gun firing, a blue light was burnt.

One night a sentry got his orders a little mixed, and about 1 a.m. bang went a gun at the flagstaff, and a blue light was shown. (A steamer was coming from the East.) The sentry, no doubt, had the rocket in mind, and perhaps he was not very wide awake, but he gave the alarm. Out everyone turned, fully believing that we were attacked by the Sepoys, or the Arabs from the mainland. The two companies fell in, one facing the way they must approach; the other some distance away, and at right angles to the other, thus being able to pour in a cross fire. The Staff-brigadier Coughlin, the Brigade Major, Captain Thacker (since died a Major General), and our own mounted officers, were waiting and waiting. Some had been dispatched to see what they could learn, and everything was found to be as quiet as could be desired. Then it came out that it was a 'sell,' or to use a military term—a false alarm.

Lots seemed disgusted (so they said) because the attack was not made. I can't say that I was over anxious to shed a brother's blood, not even a dark brudder, in fact. I felt somewhat pleased that they stopped away, for of all things I would not care to leave my bones bleaching in that spot. Besides, had I left them there, this much must be said: I should not have enjoyed the many pleasant years I have in this colony, and some thousands of children would not have page 19 grown up with the idea that such a man as myself ever existed.

In due time we were dismissed to our beds, after offering up a few blessings for the man who was the cause of our being roused. If one might judge from the boastings indulged in when all danger was over, it would have gone very hard with any enemy. This turn out cost one man six months' hard labour. He had been indulging rather too freely, and when roused up it was found that he must go into durance vile; he struck his superior. He was a very rough customer, was John Long, when under the influence of liquor, and he could boast of more courts-martial than years' service.

This alarm suggested to our leading musician a tune which was duly entered at Stationers' Hall: "The Aden alarm gallop." Many may, no doubt, have heard of it. W. E. Heywood (Capt.), lately deceased, resided as mine host at the Albion Hotel, Invercargill.

We had a very fast runner in our party, and the Somalis, who are a very active race, and fancying they can run, put forward all their best men, one after the other, but Cosgrove was too much for them; the fact was they were quite a little gold mine to Cosgrove. When they found they had no one in Aden that could lead the way for Cosgrove, they sent away to their country for the best runner procurable. In due course over came an individual, an animated flag staff. In fact I never saw anything like him in my life. Without at all over-stepping the bounds he could easily hide behind one of our roadside telegraph poles and would reach nearly as high. The general feeling was that our man was doomed, and that we were no longer to have the champion runner in our crowd, and very few ventured any money on Cosgrove; it looked so much like handing over our rupees to the Somalis, who, by the way, were most eager to make bets on their man.

In due time the fatal hour came, and as the two men were placed side by side it looked utterly absurd to bet on Cosgrove. It looked as if the "Pole" had only to take his longest strides and he could walk against Cosgrove's running. The distance was to be 200 yards. Off they went, but it was soon discovered that though the "Pole" could boast of long limbs he lacked wind—a great requisite in such cases—and dropped out about half way. Then the regret was that all the bets were not taken. The fellow's friends were very pleased that page 20 they were not taken up, and they freely confessed that no man in Somali land could cope with Cosgrove.

Before we left, a tunnel cutting off three-fourths of the distance to the Isthmus or Turkish Wall fortifications, was opened. It took seven years to cut it through. It was started at both ends and they met in the centre. It was about 250 yards long.