12: Chapter XII
<< 11: Chapter XI || 13: Chapter XIII >>
While fresh from the subject of government mismanagement, let us
turn our eyes in the direction of one of those natural resources
of wealth for which Ceylon has ever been renowned - the "pearl
fishery." This was the goose which laid the golden egg, and Sir
W. Horton, when governor of Ceylon, was the man who killed the
Here was another fatal instance of the effects of a five years'
term of governorship.
It was the last year of his term, and he wished to prove to the
Colonial Office that "his talent" had not been laid up in a
napkin, but that he bad left the colony with an excess of income
over expenditure. To obtain this income he fished up all the
oysters, ruined the fishery in consequence; and from that day to
the present time it has been unproductive.
This is a serious loss of income to the colony, and great doubts
are entertained as to the probability, of the oyster-banks ever
recovering their fertility.
Nothing can exceed the desolation of the coast in the
neighborhood of the pearl-banks. For many miles the shore is a
barren waste of low sandy ground, covered for the most part with
scrubby, thorny jungle, diversified by glades of stunted herbage.
Not a hill is to be seen as far as the eye can reach. The tracks
of all kind of game abound on the sandy path, with occasionally
those of a naked foot, but seldom does a shoe imprint its
civilized mark upon these lonely shores.
The whole of this district is one of the best in Ceylon for
deer-shooting, which is a proof of its want of inhabitants. This
has always been the case, even in the prosperous days of the
pearl fishery. So utterly worthless is the soil, that it remains
in a state of nature, and its distance from Colombo (one hundred
and fifty miles) keeps it in entire seclusion.
It is a difficult to conceive that any source of wealth should
exist in such a locality. When standing on the parched sand,
with the burning sun shining in pitiless might upon all around,
the meagre grass burnt to a mere straw, the tangled bushes
denuded of all verdure save a few shriveled leaves, the very
insects seeking shelter from the rays, there is not a tree to
throw a shadow, but a dancing haze of molten air hovers upon the
ground, and the sea like a mirror reflects a glare, which makes
the heat intolerable. And yet beneath the wave on this wild and
desolate spot glitter those baubles that minister to man's
vanity; and, as though in mockery of such pursuits, I have seen
the bleached skulls of bygone pearl-seekers lying upon the sand,
where they have rotted in view of the coveted treasures.
There is an appearance of ruin connected with everything in the
neighborhood. Even in the good old times this coast was simply
visited during the period for fishing. Temporary huts were
erected for thousands of natives, who thronged to Ceylon from all
parts of the East for the fascinating speculations of the pearl
fishery. No sooner was the season over than every individual
disappeared; the wind swept away the huts of sticks and leaves;
and the only vestiges remaining of the recent population were the
government stores and house at Arripo, like the bones of the
carcase after the vultures had feasted and departed. All
relapsed at once into its usual state of desolation.
The government house was at one time a building of some little
pretension, and from its style it bore the name of the "Doric."
It is now, like everything else, in a state of lamentable decay.
The honeycombed eighteen pounder, which was the signal gun of
former years, is choked with drifting sand, and the air of misery
about the place is indescribable.
Now that the diving helmet has rendered subaqueous discoveries,
so easy, I am surprised that a government survey has not been
made of the whole north-west coast of Ceylon. It seems
reasonable to suppose that the pearl oyster should inhabit depths
which excluded the simple diver of former days, and that our
modern improvements might discover treasures in the neighborhood
of the old pearl-beds of which we are now in ignorance. The best
divers, without doubt, could never much exceed a minute in
submersion. I believe the accounts of their performances
generally to have been much exaggerated. At all events, those of
the present day do not profess to remain under water much more
than a minute.
The accounts of Ceylon pearl fisheries are so common in every
child's book that I do not attempt to describe the system in
detail. Like all lotteries, there are few prizes to the
proportion of blanks.
The whole of this coast is rich in the biche de mer more commonly
called the sea-slug. This is a disgusting species of mollusca,
which grows to a large size, being commonly about a foot in
length and three or four inches in diameter. The capture and
preparation of these creatures is confined exclusively to the
Chinese, who dry them in the sun until they shrink to the size of
a large sausage and harden to the consistency of horn; they are
then exported to China for making soups. No doubt they are more
strengthening than agreeable; but I imagine that our common
garden slug would be an excellent substitute to any one desirous
of an experiment, as it exactly resembles its nautical
representative in color and appearance. Trincomalee is the great
depot for this trade, which is carried on to a large extent,
together with that of sharks' fins, the latter being used by the
Chinese for the same purpose as the biche de mer. Trincomalee
affords many facilities for this trade, as the slugs are found in
large quantities on the spot, and the finest harbor of the East
is alive with sharks. Few things surpass the tropical beauty of
this harbor; lying completely land-locked, it seems like a glassy
lake surrounded by hills covered with the waving foliage of
groves of cocoa-nut trees and palms of great variety. The white
bungalows with their red-tiled roofs, are dotted about along the
shore, and two or three men-of-war are usually resting at their
ease in this calm retreat. So deep is the water that the harbor
forms a perfect dock, as the largest vessel can lie so close to
the shore that her yards overhang it, which enables stores and
cargo to be shipped with great facility.
The fort stands upon a projecting point of land, which rises to
about seventy feet above the level of the galle face (the
race-course) which faces it. Thus it commands the land approach
across this flat plain on one side and the sea on the other.
This same fort is one of the hottest corners of Ceylon, and forms
a desirable residence for those who delight in a temperature of
from 90 degrees to 140 degrees in the shade. Bathing is the
great enjoyment, but the pleasure in such a country is destroyed
by the knowledge that sharks are looking out for you in the sea,
and crocodiles in the rivers and tanks; thus a man is nothing
more than an exciting live-bait when he once quits terra firma.
Accidents necessarily must happen, but they are not so frequent
as persons would suppose from the great number of carnivorous
monsters that exist. Still, I am convinced that a white man
would run greater risk than a black; he is a more enticing bait,
being bright and easily distinguished in the water. Thus in
places where the natives are in the habit of bathing with
impunity it would be most dangerous for a white man to enter.
There was a lamentable instance of this some few years ago at
Trincomalee. In a sheltered nook among the rocks below the fort,
where the natives were always in the habit of bathing, a party of
soldiers of the regiment then in garrison went down one sultry
afternoon for a swim. It was a lovely spot for bathing; the
water was blue, clear and calm, as the reef that stretched far
out to sea served as a breakwater to the heavy surf, and
preserved the inner water as smooth as a lake. Here were a fine
lot of English soldiers stripped to bathe; and although the ruddy
hue of British health had long since departed in the languid
climate of the East, nevertheless their spirits were as high as
those of Englishmen usually are, no matter where or under what
circumstances. However, one after the other took a run, and then
a "header" off the rocks into the deep blue water beneath. In
the long line of bathers was a fine lad of fifteen, the son of
one of the sergeants of the regiment; and with the emulation of
his age he ranked himself among the men, and on arriving at the
edge he plunged head-foremost into the water and disappeared. A
crowd of men were on the margin watching the bathing; the boy
rose to the surface within a few feet of them, but as he shook
the water from his hair, a cloudy shadow seemed to rise from the
deep beneath him, and in another moment the distinct outline of a
large shark was visible as his white belly flashed below. At the
same instant there was a scream of despair; the water was
crimsoned, and a bloody foam rose to the surface - the boy was
gone! Before the first shock of horror was well felt by those
around, a gallant fellow of the same regiment shot head first
into the bloody spot, and presently reappeared from his devoted
plunge, bearing in his arms one-half of the poor boy. The body
was bitten off at the waist, and the lower portion was the prize
of the ground shark.
For several days the soldiers were busily employed in fishing for
this monster, while the distracted mother sat in the burning sun,
watching in heart-broken eagerness, in the hope of recovering
some trace of her lost son. This, however, was not to be; the
shark was never seen again.
There is as much difference in the characters of sharks as among
other animals or men. Some are timid and sluggish, moving as
though too lazy to seek their food; and there is little doubt
that such would never attack man. Others, on the contrary, dash
through the water as a pike would seize its prey, and refuse or
fear nothing. There is likewise a striking distinction in the
habits of crocodiles; those that inhabit rivers being far more
destructive and fearless than those that infest the tanks. The
natives hold the former in great terror, while with the latter
they run risks which are sometimes fatal. I recollect a large
river in the southeast of Ceylon, which so abounds with ferocious
crocodiles that the natives would not enter the water in depths
above the knees, and even this they objected to, unless necessity
compelled them to cross the river. I was encamped on the banks
for some little time, and the natives took the trouble to warn me
especially not to enter; and, as proof of the danger, they showed
me a spot where three men had been devoured in the course of one
year, all three of whom are supposed to have ministered to the
appetite of the same crocodile.
Few reptiles are more disgusting in appearance than these brutes;
but, nevertheless, their utility counterbalances their bad
qualities, as they cleanse the water from all impurities. So
numerous are they that their heads may be seen in fives and tens
together, floating at the top of the water like rough corks; and
at about five P.M. they bask on the shore close to the margin of
the shore ready to scuttle in on the shortest notice. They are
then particularly on the alert, and it is a most difficult thing
to stalk them, so as to get near enouogh to make a certain shot.
This is not bad amusement when no other sport can be had. Around
the margin of a lake, in a large plain far in the distance, may
be seen a distinct line upon the short grass like the fallen
trunk of a tree. As there are no trees at hand, this must
necessarily be a crocodile. Seldom can the best hand at stalking
then get within eighty yards of him before he lifts his scaly
head, and, listening for a second, plunges off the bank.
I have been contradicted in stating that a ball will penetrate
their scales. It is absurd, however, to hold the opinion that
the scales will turn a ball - that is to say, stop the ball (as
we know that a common twig will of course turn it from its
direction, if struck obliquely).
The scales of a crocodile are formed of bone exquisitely jointed
together like the sections of a skull; these are covered
externally with a horny skin, forming, no doubt, an excellent
defensive armor, about an inch in thickness; but the idea of
their being impenetrable to a ball, if struck fair, is a great
fallacy. People may perhaps complain because a pea rifle with a
mere pinch of powder may be inefficient, but a common No. 16
fowling-piece, with two drachms of powder, will penetrate any
crocodile that was ever hatched.
Among the most harmless kinds are those which inhabit the salt
lakes in the south of Ceylon. I have never beard of an accident
in these places, although hundreds of persons are employed
annually in collecting salt from the bottom.
These natural reservoirs are of great extent, some of them being
many miles in circumference. Those most productive are about
four miles round, and yield a supply in August, during the height
of the dry season.
Salt in Ceylon is a government monopoly; and it has hitherto been
the narrow policy of the government to keep up an immense price
upon this necessary of life, when the resources of the country
could produce any amount required for the island consumption.
These are now all but neglected, and the government simply
gathers the salt as the wild pig feeds upon the fruit which falls
from the tree in its season.
The government price of salt is now about three shillings per
bushel. This is very impure, being mixed with much dirt and
sand. The revenue obtained by the salt monopoly is about forty
thousand pounds per annum, two-thirds of which is an unfair
burden upon the population, as the price, according to the
supply obtainable, should never exceed one shilling per bushel.
Let us consider the capabilities of the locality from which it is
The lakes are some five or six in number, situated within half a
mile of the sea, separated only by a high bank of drift sand,
covered for the most part with the low jungle which clothes the
surrounding country. Flat plains of a sandy nature form the
margins of the lakes. The little town of Hambantotte, with a
good harbor for small craft, is about twenty miles distant, to
which there is a good cart road.
The water of these lakes is a perfect brine. In the dry season
the evaporation, of course, increases the strength until the
water can no longer retain the amount of salt in solution it
therefore precipitates and crystalizes at the bottom in various
degrees of thickness, according to the strength of the brine.
Thus, as the water recedes from the banks by evaporation and the
lake decreases in size, it leaves a beach, not of shingles, but
of pure salt in crystallized cubes, to the depth of several
inches, and sometimes to half a foot or more. The bottom of the
lake is equally coated with this thick deposit.
These lakes are protected by watchers, who live upon the margin
throughout the year. Were it not for this precaution, immense
quantities of salt would be stolen. In the month of August the
weather is generally most favorable for the collection, at which
time the assistant agent for the district usually gives a few
The salt upon the shore being first collected, the natives wade
into the lake and gather the deposit from the bottom, which they
bring to the shore in baskets; it is then made up into vast
piles, which are subsequently thatched over with cajans (the
plaited leaf of the cocoanut). In this state it remains until an
opportunity offers for carting it to the government salt stores.
This must strike the reader as being a rude method of collecting
what Nature so liberally produces. The waste is necessarily
enormous, as the natives cannot gather the salt at a greater
depth than three feet; hence the greater proportion of the annual
produce of the lake remains ungathered. The supply at present
afforded might be trebled with very little trouble or expense.
If a stick is inserted in the mud, so that one end stands above
water, the salt crystallizes upon it in a large lump of several
pounds' weight. This is of a better quality than that which is
gathered from the bottom, being free from sand or other
impurities. Innumerable samples of this may be seen upon the
stakes which the natives have stuck in the bottom to mark the
line of their day's work. These, not being removed, amass a
collection of salt as described.
Were the government anxious to increase the produce of these
natural reservoirs, nothing could be more simple than to plant
the whole lake with rows of stakes. The wood is on the spot, and
the rate of labor sixpence a day per man; thus it might be
accomplished for a comparatively small amount.
This would not only increase the produce to an immense degree,
but it would also improve the purity of the collection, and would
render facilities for gathering the crop by means of boats, and
thus obviate the necessity of entering the water; at present the
suffering caused by the latter process is a great drawback to the
supply of labor. So powerful is the brine that the legs and feet
become excoriated after two or three days' employment, and the
natives have accordingly a great aversion to the occupation.
Nothing could be easier than gathering the crop by the method
proposed. Boats would paddle along between the rows of stakes,
while each stick would be pulled up and the salt disengaged by a
single blow; the stick would then be replaced n its position
until the following season.
Nevertheless, although so many specimens exist of this
accumulation, the method which was adopted by the savage is still
followed by the soi-disant civilized man.
In former days, when millions occupied Ceylon, the demand for
salt must doubtless have been in proportion, and the lakes which
are now so neglected must have been taxed to their utmost
resources. There can be little doubt that the barbarians of
those times had some more civilized method of increasing the
production than the enlightened race of the present day.
The productive salt lakes are confined entirely to the south of
Ceylon. Lakes and estuaries of sea-water abound all round the
island, but these are only commonly salt, and do not yield. The
north and the east coasts are therefore supplied by artificial
salt-pans. These are simple enclosed levels on the beach, into
which the sea-water is admitted, and then allowed to evaporate by
the heat of the sun. The salt of course remains at the bottom.
More water is then admitted, and again evaporated; and this
process continues until the thickness of the salt at the bottom
allows of its being collected.
This simple plan might be adopted with great success with the
powerful brine of the salt lakes, which might be pumped from its
present lower level into dry reservoirs for evaporation.
The policy of the government, however, does not tend to the
increase of any production. It is preferred to keep up the high
rate of salt by a limited supply, which meets with immediate
demand, rather than to increase the supply for the public benefit
at a reduced rate. This is a mistaken mode of reasoning. At the
present high price the consumption of salt is extremely small, is
its rise is restricted to absolute necessaries. On the other
hand, were the supply increased at one half the present rate, the
consumption would augment in a far greater proportion, as salt
would then be used for a variety of purposes which at the present
cost is impossible, viz. For the purpose of cattle-feeding,
manures, etc., etc. In addition to this, it would vastly affect
the price of salt fish (the staple article of native
consumption), and by the reduction in cost of this commodity
there would be a corresponding extension in the trade.
The hundreds of thousands of hides which are now thrown aside to
rot uncared for would then be preserved and exported, which at
the present rate of salt is impossible. The skins of buffaloes,
oxen, deer, swine, all valuable in other parts of the world, in
Ceylon are valueless. The wild buffalo is not even skinned when
shot; he is simply opened for his marrow-bones, his tail is cut
off for soup, his brains taken out for cotelettes, and his tongue
salted. The beast himself, hide and all, is left as food for the
jackal. The wandering native picks up his horns, which find their
way to the English market; but the "hide," the only really
valuable portion, is neglected.
Within a short distance of the salt lakes, buffaloes, boars, and
in fact all kind of animals abound, and I have no doubt that if
it were once proved to the natives that the hides could be made
remunerative, they would soon learn the method of preparation.
Some persons have an idea that a native will not take the trouble
to do anything that would turn a penny; in this I do not agree.
Certainly a native has not sufficient courage for a speculation
which involves the risk of loss; but provided he is safe in that
respect, he will take unbounded trouble for his own benefit, not
valuing his time or labor in pursuit of his object.
I have noticed a great change in the native habits along the
southern coast which exemplifies this, since the steamers have
touched regularly at Galle.
Some years ago, elephants, buffaloes, etc., when shot by
sportsmen, remained untouched except by wild beast; but now
within one hundred and fifty miles of Galle every buffalo horn is
collected and even the elephant's grinders are extracted from the
skulls, and brought into market.
An elephant's grinder averages seven pounds in weight, and is not
worth more than from a penny to three half-pence a pound;
nevertheless they are now brought to Galle in large quantities to
be made into knife-handles and sundry ornaments, to tempt the
passengers of the various steamers. If the native takes this
trouble for so small a recompense, there is every reason to
suppose that the hides now wasted would be brought into market
and form a valuable export, were salt at such a rate as would
admit of their preparation.
The whole of the southern coast, especially in the neighborhood
of the salt lakes, abounds with fish. These are at present nearly
undisturbed; but I have little doubt that a reduction in the
price of salt would soon call forth the energies of the Moormen,
who would establish fisheries in the immediate neighborhood. This
would be of great importance to the interior of the country, as a
road has been made within the last few years direct from this
locality to Badulla, distant about eighty miles, and situated in
the very heart of the most populous district of Ceylon. This
road, which forms a direct line of communication from the port of
Hambantotte to Newera Ellia, is now much used for the transport
of coffee from the Badulla estates, to which a cheap supply of
salt and fish would he a great desideratum.
The native is a clever fellow at fishing. Every little boy of
ten years old along the coast is an adept in throwing the casting
net; and I have often watched with amusement the scientific
manner in which some of these little fellows handle a fine fish
on a single line; Isaak Walton would have been proud of such
There is nothing like necessity for sharpening a man's intellect,
and the natives of the coast being a class of ichthyophagi, it
may be imagined that they excel in all the methods of capturing
their favorite food.
The sea, the rivers, and in fact every pool, teem with fish of
excellent quality, from the smallest to the largest kind, not
forgetting the most delicious prawns and crabs. Turtle likewise
abound, and are to be caught in great numbers in their season.
Notwithstanding the immense amount of fish in the various rivers,
there is no idea of fishing as a sport among the European
population of Ceylon. This I cannot account for, unless from the
fear of fever, which might be caught with more certainty than
fish by standing up to the knees in water under a burning sun.
Nevertheless, I have indulged in this every now and then, when
out on a jungle trip, although I have never started from home
with such an intention. Seeing some fine big fellows swimming
about in a deep hole is a great temptation, especially when you
know they are grey mullet, and the chef de cuisine is short of
the wherewithal for dinner.
This is not infrequently the case during a jungle trip; and the
tent being pitched in the shade of a noble forest on the steep
banks of a broad river, thoughts of fishing naturally intrude
The rivers in the dry season are so exhausted that a simple bed
of broad dry sand remains, while a small stream winds along the
bottom, merely a few inches deep, now no more than a few feet in
width, now rippling over a few opposing rocks, while the natural
bed extends its dry sand for many yards on either side. At every
bend in the river there is of course a deep hole close to the
bank; these holes remain full of water, as the little stream
continues to flow through them; and the water, in its entrance
and exit being too shallow for a large fish, all the finny
monsters of the river are compelled to imprison themselves in the
depths of these holes. Here the crocodiles have fine feeding, as
they live in the same place.
With a good rod and tackle there would be capital sport in these
places, as some of the fish run ten and twelve pounds weight; but
I have never been well provided, and, while staring at the
coveted fish from the bank, I have had no means of catching them,
except by the most primitive methods.
Then I have cut a stick for a rod, and made a line with some
hairs from my horse's tail, with a pin for a hook, baited with a
shrimp, and the fishing has commenced.
Fish and fruit are the most enjoyable articles of food in a
tropical country, and in the former Ceylon is rich. The seir
fish is little inferior to salmon, and were the flesh a similar
color, it might sometimes form a substitute. Soles and whiting
remind us of Old England, but a host of bright red, blue, green,
yellow, and extraordinary-looking creatures in the same net
dispel all ideas of English fishing.
Oysters there are likewise in Ceylon; but here, alas I there is a
sad falling off in the comparison with our well-remembered
"native." Instead of the neat little shell of the English oyster,
the Ceylon species is a shapeless, twisted, knotty, rocky-looking
creature, such as a legitimate oyster would be in a fit of spasms
or convulsions. In fact, there is no vestige of the true breed
about it, and the want of flavor equals its miserable exterior.
There are few positions more tantalizing to a hungry man than
that of being surrounded b oysters without a knife. It is an
obstinate and perverse wretch that will not accommodate itself to
man's appetite, and it requires a forcible attack to vanquish it;
so that every oyster eaten is an individual murder, in which the
cold steel has been plunged into its vitals, and the animal finds
itself swallowed before it as quite made up its mind that it has
been opened. But take away the knife, and see how vain is the
attempt to force the stronghold. How utterly useless is the
oyster! You may turn it over and over, and look for a weak place,
but there is no admittance; you may knock it with a stone, but
the knock will be unanswered. How would you open such a creature
without a knife?
This was one of the many things that had never occurred to me
until one day when I found myself with some three or four
friends and a few boatmen on a little island, or rather a rock,
about a mile from the shore. This rock was rich in the spasmodic
kind of oyster, large detached masses of which lay just beneath
the water in lumps of some hundredweight each, which had been
formed by the oysters clustering and adhering together. It so
happened that our party were unanimous in the love of these
creatures, and we accordingly exerted ourselves to roll out of
the water a large mass; which having accomplished, we discovered
to our dismay that nothing but one penknife was possessed among
us. This we knew was a useless weapon against such armor;
however, in our endeavors to perform impossibilities, we tickled
the oyster and broke the knife. After gazing for seine time in
blank despair at our useless prize, a bright thought struck one
of the party, and drawing his ramrod he began to screw it Into
the weakest part of an oyster; this, however, was proof, and the
Stupid enough it may appear, but it was full a quarter of an hour
before any of us thought of a successful plan of attack. I
noticed a lot of drift timber scattered upon the island, and then
the right idea was hit. We gathered the wood, which was bleached
and dry, an we piled it a few feet to windward of the mass of
oysters. Striking a light with a cap and some powder, we lit the
pile. It blazed and the wind blew the heat strong upon the
oysters, which accordingly began to squeak and hiss, until one by
one they gave up the ghost, and, opening their shells, exposed
their delightfully roasted bodies, which were eaten forthwith.
How very absurd and uninteresting this is! but nevertheless it is
one of those trifling incidents which sharpen the imagination
when you depend upon your own resources.
It is astonishing how perfectly helpless some people are if taken
from the artificial existence of every-day life and thrown
entirely upon themselves. One man would be in superlative misery
while another would enjoy the responsibility, and delight in the
fertility of his own invention in accommodating himself to
circumstances. A person can scarcely credit the unfortunate
number of articles necessary for his daily and nightly comfort,
until he is deprived of them. To realize this, lose yourself,
good reader, wander off a great distance from everywhere, and be
benighted in a wild country, with nothing but your rifle and
hunting-knife. You will then find yourself dinnerless,
supperless, houseless, comfortless, sleepless, cold and
miserable, if you do not know how to manage for yourself. You
will miss your dinner sadly if you are not accustomed to fast for
twenty-four hours. You will also miss your bed decidedly, and
your toothbrush in the morning; but if, on the other hand, you
are of the right stamp, it is astonishing how lightly these
little troubles will sit on you, and how comfortable you will
make yourself under the circumstances.
The first thing you will consider is the house. The
architectural style will of course depend upon the locality. If
the ground is rocky and hilly, be sure to make a steep pitch in
the bank or the side of a rock form a wall, to leeward of which
you will lie when your mansion is completed by a few sticks
simply inclined from the rock and covered with grass. If the
country is flat, you must cut four forked sticks, and erect a
villa after this fashion in skeleton-work, which you then cover
You will then strew the floor with grass or, small boughs, in
lieu of a feather bed, and you will tie up a bundle of the same
material into a sheaf, which will form a capital pillow. If
grass and sticks are at hand, this will be completed thus far in
Then comes the operation of fire-making, which is by no means
easy; and as warmth comes next to food, and a blaze both scares
wild animals and looks cheerful, I advise some attention to be
paid to the fire. There must be a good collection of old fallen
logs, if possible, together with some green wood to prevent too
rapid a consumption of fuel. But the fire is not yet made.
First tear off a bit of your shirt and rub it with moistened
gunpowder. Wind this in a thick roll round your ramrod just
below the point of the screw, with the rough torn edge uppermost.
Into these numerous folds sprinkle a pinch of gunpowder; then put
a cap on the point of the screw, and a slight tap with your
hunting-knife explodes it and ignites the linen.
Now, fire in its birth requires nursing like a young baby, or it
will leave you in the lurch. A single spark will perhaps burn
your haystacks, but when you want a fire it seldom will burn, out
of sheer obstinacy; therefore, take a wisp of dry grass, into
which push the burning linen and give it a rapid, circular motion
through the air, which will generally set it in a blaze.
Then pile gently upon it the smallest and driest sticks,
increasing their size as the fire grows till it is all right; and
you will sit down proudly before your own fire, thoroughly
confident that you are the first person that ever made one
There is some comfort in that; and having manufactured your own
house and bed, you will lie down snugly and think of dinner till
you fall asleep, and the crowing of the jungle-cocks will wake
you in the morning.
The happiest hours of my life have been passed in this rural
solitude. I have started from home with nothing but a couple of
blankets and the hounds, and, with one blanket wrapped round me I
have slept beneath a capital tent formed of the other with two
forked sticks and a horizontal pole - the ends of the blanket
being secured by heavy stones, thus-
This is a more comfortable berth than it may appear at first
sight, especially if one end is stopped up with boughs. The
ridge-pole being only two feet and a half high, renders it
necessary to crawl in on all-fours; but this lowness of ceiling
has its advantages in not catching the wind, and likewise in its
warmth. A blanket roof, well secured and tightly strained, will
keep off the heaviest rain for a much longer period than a common
tent; but in thoroughly wet weather any woven roof is more or
I recollect a certain bivouac in the Angora patinas for a few
days' hunting, when I was suddenly seized with a botanical fit in
a culinary point of view, and I was determined to make the jungle
subscribe something toward the dinner. To my delight, I
discovered some plants which, from the appearance of their
leaves, I knew were a species of wild yam; they grew in a ravine
on the swampy soil of a sluggish spring, and the ground being
loose, I soon grubbed them up and found a most satisfactory
quantity of yams about the size of large potatoes - not bad
things for dinner. Accordingly, they were soon transferred to
the pot. Elk steaks and an Irish stew, the latter to be made of
elk chops, onions and the prized yams; this was the bill of fare
expected. But, misericordia! what a change cone over the yams
when boiled! they turned a beautiful slate color, and looked like
imitations of their former selves in lead.
Their appearance was uncommonly bad, certainly. There were three
of us to feed upon them, viz., Palliser, my huntsman Benton and
myself. No one wishing to be first, it was then, I confess, that
the thought just crossed my mind that Benton should make the
experiment, but, repenting at the same moment, I punished myself
by eating a very little one on the spot. Benton, who was blessed
with a huge appetite, picked out a big one. Greedy fellow, to
choose the largest! but, n'importe, it brought its punishment.
Palliser and I having eaten carefully, were just beginning to
feel uncomfortable, when up jumped Benton, holding his throat
with both hands, crying, "My throat's full of pins. I'm choked."
We are poisoned, no doubt of it," said Palliser, in his turn. "I
am choking likewise." "So am I." There we were all three, with
our throats in an extraordinary state of sudden contraction and
inflammation, with a burning and pricking sensation, in addition
to a feeling of swelling and stoppage of the windpipe. Having
nothing but brandy at hand, we dosed largely instanter, and in
the course of ten minutes we found relief; but Benton, having,
eaten his large yam, was the last to recover.
There must have been highly poisonous qualities in this root, as
the quantity eaten was nothing in proportion to the effects
produced. It is well known that many roots are poisonous when
raw (especially the manioc), which become harmless when cooked,
as the noxious properties consist of a very volatile oil, which
is thrown off during the process of boiling. These wild yams
must necessarily be still worse in their raw state; and it
struck me, after their effects became known, that I had never
seen them grubbed up by the wild hogs; this neglect being a sure
proof of their unfitness for food.
In these Augora patinas a curious duel was lately fought by a
pair of wild bull elephants, both of whom were the raree aves of
Ceylon, "tuskers." These two bulls had consorted with a herd,
and had no doubt quarreled about the possession of the females.
They accordingly fought it out to the death, as a large tusker
was found recently killed, with his body bored in many directions
by his adversary's tusks, the ground in the vicinity being
trodden down with elephant tracks proving the obstinacy of the
The last time that I was in this locality poor old Bluebeard was
alive, and had been performing feats in elk-hunting which no dog
could surpass. A few weeks later and he ran his last elk, and
left a sad blank in the pack.
Good and bad luck generally come in turn; but when the latter
does pay a visit, it falls rather. heavily, especially among the
hounds. In one year I lost nearly the whole pack. Seven died in
one week from an attack upon the brain, appearing in a form
fortunately unknown in England. In the same year I lost no less
than four of the best hounds by leopards, in addition to a
fearful amount of casualties from other causes.
Shortly after the appearance of the epidemic alluded to, I took
the hounds to the Totapella Plains for a fortnight, for chance of
air, while their kennel was purified and re-whitewashed.
In these Totapella Plains I had a fixed encampment, which, being
within nine miles of my house, I could visit at any time with the
hounds, without the slightest preparation. There was an immense
number of elk in this part of the country; in fact this was a
great drawback to the hunting, as two or more were constantly on
foot at the same time, which divided the hounds and scattered
them in all directions. This made hard work of the sport, as
this locality is nothing but a series of ups and downs. The
plains, as they are termed, are composed of some hundred grassy
hills, of about a hundred feet elevation above the river; these
rise like half oranges in every direction, while a high chain of
precipitous mountains walls in one side of the view.
Forest-covered hills abound in the centre and around the skirts
of the plains, while a deep river winds in a circuitous route
between the grassy hills.
My encampment was well chosen in this romantic spot. It was a
place where you might live all your life without seeing a soul
except a wandering bee-hunter, or a native sportsman who had
ventured up from the low country to shoot an elk.
Surrounded on all sides but one with steep hills, my hunting
settlement lay snugly protected from the wind in a little valley.
A small jungle about a hundred yards square grew at the base of
one of these grassy hills, in which, having cleared the underwood
for about forty yards, I left the rarer trees standing, and
erected my huts under their shelter at the exact base of the
knoll. This steep rise broke off into an abrupt cliff about
sixty yards from my tent, against which the river had waged
constant war, and, turning in an endless vortex, had worn a deep
hole, before it shot off in a rapid torrent from the angle,
dashing angrily over the rocky masses which had fallen from the
overhanging cliff, and coming to a sudden rest in a broad deep
pool within twenty yards of the tent door.
This was a delicious spot. Being snugly hidden in the jungle,
there was no sign of my encampment from the plain, except the
curling blue smoke which rose from the little hollow. A plot of
grass of some two acres formed the bottom of the valley before my
habitation, at the extremity of which the river flowed, backed on
the opposite side by an abrupt hill covered with forest and
This being a chilly part of Ceylon, I had thatched the walls of
my tent, and made a good gridiron bedstead, to keep me from the
damp ground, by means of forked upright sticks, two horizontal
bars and numerous cross-pieces. This was covered with six
inches' thickness of grass, strapped down with the bark of a
fibrous shrub. My table and bench were formed in the same
manner, being of course fixtures, but most substantial. The
kitchen, huts for attendants and kennel were close adjoining. I
could have lived there all my life in fine weather. I wish I was
there now with all my heart. However, I had sufficient bad luck
on my last visit to have disgusted most people. Poor Matchless,
who was as good as her name implied, died of inflammation of the
lungs; and I started one morning in very low spirits at her loss,
hoping to cheer myself up by a good hunt.
It was not long before old Bluebeard's opening note was heard
high upon the hill-tops; but, at the same time, a portion of the
pack had found another elk, which, taking an opposite direction,
of course divided them. Being determined to stick to Bluebeard
to the last, I made straight through the jungle toward the point
at which I had heard a portion of the pack join him, intending to
get upon their track and follow up. This I soon did; and after
running for some time through the jungle, which, being young
"nillho," was unmistakably crushed by the elk and hounds, I came
to a capital though newly-made path, as a single elephant, having
been disturbed by the cry of the hounds, had started off at full
speed; and the elk and hounds, naturally choosing the easiest
route through the jungle, had kept upon his track. This I was
certain of, as the elk's print sunk deep in that of the elephant,
whose dung, lying upon the spot, was perfectly hot.
I fully expected that the hounds would bring the elephant to bay,
which is never pleasant when you are without a gun; however, they
did not, but, sticking to their true game, they went straight
away toward the chain of mountains at the end of the plain. The
river, in making its exit, is checked by abrupt precipices, and
accordingly makes an angle and then descends a ravine toward the
I felt sure, from the nature of the ground and the direction of
the run, that the elk would come to bay in this ravine; and,
after half an hour's run, I was delighted, on arriving on the
hill above, to hear the bay, of the bounds in the river far
The jungle was thick and tangled, but it did not take long, to
force my way down the steep mountain side, and I neared the spot
and heard the splashing in the river, as the elk, followed by the
hounds, dashed across just before I came in view. He had broken
his bay; and, presently, I again heard the chorus of voices as he
once more came to a stand a few hundred paces down the river.
The bamboo was so thick that I could hardly break my way through
it; and I was crashing along toward the spot, when suddenly the
bay ceased, and shortly after some of the hounds came hurrying up
to me regularly scared. Lena, who seldom showed a symptom of
fear, dashed up to me in a state of great excitement, with the
deep scores of a leopard's claws on her hindquarters. Only two
couple of the hounds followed on the elk's track; the rest were
The elk had doubled back, and I saw old Bluebeard leading upon
the scent up the bank of the river, followed by three other
The surest, although the hardest work, was to get on the track
and follow up through the jungle. This I accordingly did for
about a mile, at which distance I arrived at a small swampy plain
in the centre of the jungle. Here, to my surprise, I saw old
Bluebeard sitting up and looking faint, covered with blood, with
no other dog within view. The truth was soon known upon
examination. No less than five holes were cut in his throat by a
leopard's claws, and by the violent manner in which. the poor dog
strained and choked, I felt sure that the windpipe was injured.
There was no doubt that he had received the stroke at the same
time that Lena was wounded beneath the rocky mountain when the
elk was at bay; and nevertheless, the staunch old dog had
persevered in the chase till the difficulty of breathing brought
him to a standstill. I bathed the wounds, but I knew it was his
last day, poor old fellow!
I sounded the bugle for a few minutes, and having collected some
of the scattered pack I returned to the tent, leading the wounded
dog, whose breathing rapidly became more difficult. I lost no
time in fomenting and poulticing the part, but the swelling had
commenced to such an extent that there was little hope of
This was a dark day for the pack. Benton returned in the
afternoon from a search for the missing hounds, and, as he
descended the deep hill-side on approaching the tent, I saw tent
he and a native were carrying something slung upon a pole. At
first I thought it was an elk's head, which the missing hounds
might have run to bay, but on his arrival the worst was soon
It was poor Leopold, one of my best dogs. He was all but dead,
with hopeless wounds in his throat and belly. He had been struck
by a leopard within a few yards of Benton's side, and, with his
usual pluck, the dog turned upon the leopard in spite of his
wounds, when the cowardly brute, seeing the man, turned and fled.
That night Leopold died. The next morning Bluebeard was so bad
that I returned home with him slung in a litter between two men.
Poor fellow! he never lived to reach his comfortable kennel, but
died in the litter within a mile of home. I had him buried by
the side of old Smut, and there are no truer dogs on the earth
than the two that there lie together.
A very few weeks after Bluebeard's death, however, I got a taste
of revenge out of one of the race.
Palliser and I were out shooting, and we found a single bull
elephant asleep in the dry bed of a stream; we were stealing
quietly up to him, when his guardian spirit whispered something
in his ear, and up he jumped. However, we polished him off, and
having reloaded, we passed on.
The country consisted of low, thorny jungle and small sandy
plains of short turf, and we were just entering one of these open
spots within a quarter of a mile of the dead elephant, when we
observed a splendid leopard crouching at the far end of the
glade. He was about ninety paces from us, lying broadside on,
with his head turned to the opposite direction, evidently looking
out for game. His crest was bristled up with excitement, and he
formed a perfect picture of beauty both in color and attitude.
Halting our gun-bearers, we stalked him within sixty yards; he
looked quickly round, and his large hazel eyes shone full upon
us, as the two rifles made one report, and his white belly lay
stretched upon the ground.
They were both clean shots: Palliser had aimed at his head, and
had cut off one ear and laid the skin open at the back of the
neck. My ball had smashed both shoulders, but life was not
fairly extinct. We therefore strangled him with my necktie, as I
did not wish to spoil his hide by any further wound. This was a
pleasing sacrifice to the "manes" of old Bluebeard.
E. Palliser had at one time the luck to have a fair turn up with
a leopard with the dogs and hunting-knife. At that time he kept
a pack at Dimboola, about nine miles from my house. Old
Bluebeard belonged to him, and he had a fine dog named "Pirate,"
who was the heaviest and best of his seizers.
He was out hunting with two or three friends, when suddenly a
leopard sprang from the jungle at one of the smaller hounds as
they were passing quietly along a forest path. Halloaing the
pack on upon the instant, every dog gave chase, and a short run
brought him to bay in the usual place of refuge, the boughs of a
However, it so happened that there was a good supply of large
sharp stones upon the soil, and with these the whole party kept
up a spirited bombardment, until at length one lucky shot hit him
on the head, and at the same moment he fell or jumped into the
middle of the pack. Here Pirate came to the front in grand style
and collared him, while the whole pack backed him up without an
There was a glorious struggle of course, which was terminated by
the long arm of our friend Palliser, who slipped the
hunting-knife into him and became a winner. This is the only
instance that I know of a leopard being run into and killed with
hounds and a knife.
<< 11: Chapter XI || 13: Chapter XIII >>