Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Chapter VI

Chapter VI.

I was having a walk one afternoon and had to pass through a tunnel leading to the right of Redan Battery, at the Isthmus, where we furnished a guard. When entering the tunnel a stone about the size of a 40lb bag of sugar dropped at my feet. Had I been a few inches farther ahead my fate was sealed. It gave me a bit of a turn, and after looking up at the goats which had displaced the lump, and wishing them—well, I will not say where—I passed on, but whenever I had to pass through that tunnel again, I was very particular in looking up to see that there were no goats fooling round.

page 31

The party at the Isthmus had to furnish three privates to do duty on the Arab gate. When I was down I generally had to do this duty. The duty consisted of taking down the number of people, camels, horses, asses, monkeys, and so on, also the number going out. The usual number of camels passing in per day was from ten to twelve hundred.

The result of the day's traffic was sent to the Brigade Office, by which it could be seen how many people and animals were in over and above those belonging to the place. There were no arms permitted to pass in, only when requiring repair, and for this a permit had to be procured from Mr. Rassam. Nearly every man carried arms from the interior, but had to leave them in a bungalow just inside the Arab gate, which was there for that purpose, until they were required for the return journey. I was several times on duty when the Sultan passed in. The natives about the gate, and there were always a good few when he was expected, all kissed his toe. He would always salaam and shake hands with the European on duty at the gate.

The Sultan had a son, a fine young fellow, and our officers made much of him whenever he came in. Through him and Mr. Rassam they could purchase horses. I knew one officer to purchase several at different times for 30 or 40 rupees, train them for racing, jumping, &c., then sell, perhaps, for 300 or 400 rupees.

Racing was of frequent occurrence, almost weekly, as we had a Brigade holiday every week—on Wednesday one week and Thursday the other.

Donkey races were the most popular. Races were held at the Isthmus—there was no room up in the crater. Natives as well as Europeans attended. The fair sex, of course, were bound to be there. They were rather limited; but to make up for them there were plenty who could not be called fair. But any other colour could be found, from a light brown to a jet black. The young Arab damsels are rather pretty, as a rule, until they bid adieu to their teens; then their charms suddenly desert them. The Somalie lassies have very nicely shaped faces. To my mind they have the best of any race I have met, our own not excepted. I expect to get a snub at home for this, and perhaps from other quarters; but as I did not undertake these pages with a view of stating anything but facts, I cannot make an exception even in this particular. Facts are facts, and very stubborn to combat. page 32 They are very well shaped too. This can readily be seen, as their style of dress (which is not procured from Worth), is such that very little is left to conjecture. The young men, too, are well shaped, and very active in nearly all the games indulged in by Europeans.

In March, 1859, "The Chesapeake," a 51 gun frigate, was in harbour, and on the 10th of that month they gave a performance on board, and all the European residents and several of us were invited to spend that day on board, and witness the performance in the evening. I was among those who took advantage of the invitation. Each of us procured a donkey, with each of which was a small boy who ran behind poking the animal with a sharp pointed stick. As we got to the beach a boat was in waiting, when we discharged our grooms, and were soon alongside, just as that well known air, which causes a sort of queer feeling to creep over one, who has that love and respect for the old country which every Englishman ought to have, "Rule Britannia," was played, as the well known flag was ascending at 8 a.m.

The quarter-deck was awninged over, and all arrangements were thoroughly complete for the performance, which was witnessed by an audience such as any manager would be pleased to see when he has a show on. The pieces staged were:—

"John Overt," or "The Miser of Southwark Ferry."

"The Man about Town."

"Paddy Carey," or "The Sollicking Boy of Clogheen."

All hands did their work well. Commodore Edgell and Brigadier Coughlan and his good lady were among the audience.

The excellent band of the ship was delighting the audience, under Mons. Julan Jose Faustine.

A Wm. Connell took the leading female characters, whose get up and acting would have been no discredit to a first-class theatre. During the evening he sang very touchingly that beautiful song "Good News from Home." This was the first time any one in the place had heard it, any of us at any rate, and I shall never forget the rounds and rounds of applause which followed it, and that it went to the heart of every one is but natural.

The memory of all was carried to the dear old soil, and those dear to us there. No better proof of this was needed than the way the handkerchiefs were brought into requisition, page 33 and the sniffling so audible to all. This, I can vouch for, was not confined solely to the tender sex. From, no spot on God's earth, after such a reminder, would one's thoughts so readily fly to the scenes in the old land—its green fields, valleys, and all those charms which we all love so much. What would one not give to gaze on them, who was cooped up in what Dr Russell calls "Vulcan's Workshops?"

There was a river bed near our lines, and we often wondered what it was for, as there appeared to be no necessity to provide for carrying off any surface water, for any that had fallen since our arrival just fizzed on the scorching rocks and it was gone. Just a month after our visit to the "Chesapeake," to the very day, we altered our opinion about the necessity for a watercourse, for on the 10th April there was some came. To say it rained would be too commonplace, to say that it poured would not convey a sufficient idea of what actually occurred; but if I say that a few million tons of water got stored up just over Aden, and it suddenly fell down, that would come somewhere near what occurred. I believe the fire in the "crater" must have been extinguished by such a fall as that. It was fortunate for us that the river bed was there, or I believe we should have been washed into the sea, as it was we were very near it. We very nearly shared the fate of about 300 camels, sheep, and a few other animals, and a few small bungalows, in which the occupants of some found their way down into the bay. All were rescued by our men, as the bay, even at high tide, was fordable for some distance from shore.

Many are no doubt aware that in order to secure camels after they he down a rope from the neck is tied round one knee, and this prevents their rising. Those that were on the market place, and right in the track of the water flowing from the reservoir, which had given way, by the terrible rush of water from the different hills which found its way into it. This swept everything before it down into the sea. All our men worked with a will and saved all. It was no hardship to be in the water there, in fact it was a great pleasure at any time, but in this instance in particular, as we were rendering a great service to the inhabitants. It was night, unfortunately, and the task was rendered all the more difficult. It was not so fatal as that at Johnstown not long since, but had the water had far to travel before reaching the page 34 sea, and a very populated part to pass over, the mischief and loss of life must have been considerable.

We were in great favour among the natives over this, and three rupees were offered for every camel saved, but this was declined. It is very fortunate for Aden that it does not rain often, if that is the way it goes about it. It rained but three times while we were there, but the instance I have referred to was the only fall worth recording. They have recently had another fall, the first real fall there since that time, 1859.

Prior to our advent, a certain political resident was playing high jinks with "John Company's" rupees. He was enjoying a glorious time, looking after number one with a thoroughness not often witnessed—"Providing for a rainy day," to use a good old saying. Perhaps the blame would not have been so great had he not made others suffer by his grasping actions.

I have heard the loss of thousands upon thousands of rupees accounted for through white ants. I know ants are very plentiful in some parts of the East, but I have always doubted their ability to scoff such a large quantity of silver as is contained in a few lacs of rupees. I was never aware (but then I am not well up in natural history) that their digestive organs were such that they could cause such a solid substance to entirely disappear.

Some men will tell us that all men are rogues. This gentleman was bent, it would appear, to have the gain with the name. It was unlucky for him, but perhaps fortunate for the Government, that there was in Aden a reverend gentleman, Mr. B——, a Church of England clergyman, and a very popular one too. He went to dine with the political resident one evening, and before dinner they were walking round the premises, where an effort was being made to cultivate a few shrubs. A large tank of good fresh water was at hand for this purpose. The reverend gentleman put his finger in and tasted the water, and found it good. He drew the attention of his host to the fact, and remarked what bad water the men in barracks were using. "It's half and half," was the reply, "and it is useless putting anything but pure fresh on these."

The reverend gentleman was so disgusted with the reply that he called his groom to bring his horse, and off he rode: and though pressed to remain and dine, he declined.

page 35

On arrival home, he sent a servant for a bottle of the water from the aforementioned tank, and procured another from the barracks, and despatched the two off to Bombay; and it was not long before a Board of Officers were down to investigate the whole affair of the resident.

One act will, we all know, often lead to the discovery of others. It was so in this case. All the public works which had been carried on were overhauled, and some very glaring instances of fraud discovered. Here is one case:—

A building which he had entered in a schedule as a "store building," was down as having cost 1,600 rupees. It was one of those requisite structures which is needed at every habitable building. I have seen the building hundreds of times, and the kind of material used (bamboo and a few boards). Its outside cost, taking the native labour into account, which is very cheap, could not have been more than 50 rupees. This was a nice little profit on one small building.

There were many other instances of greater or less magnitude. A trial and imprisonment during the Queen's pleasure followed. He caused a barracks to be commenced, and its walls (stone) were about breast high. This was standing as a monument of folly when we were there. It covered a large area, as there was a room, or I ought to say, a cell, intended for each man. We often wondered what the higher powers were thinking of ever to allow such a thing to have been started. His wife frequently took a trip to Europe for the benefit of her health, which was considered good; but the real reason of her going was to invest the spoils. So whilst he was doing penance in the East, she was in the far West, not at all badly provided for.

Sleep is a luxury very hard to indulge in sometimes. I have known many, myself among the number, to run out several times in a night to dip a sheet into the sea, wrap it round, and lie down thus until it got warm. That would not be long. Thus we often put in the night. The salt water would be rough on the prickly heat.