2: Chapter II
<< 1: Chapter I || 3: Chapter III >>
I had not been long in England before I discovered that my trip
to Ceylon had only served to upset all ideas of settling down
quietly at home. Scenes of former sports and places were
continually intruding themselves upon my thoughts, and I longed
to be once more roaming at large with the rifle through the
noiseless wildernesses in Ceylon. So delightful were the
recollections of past incidents that I could scarcely believe
that it lay within my power to renew them. Ruminating over all
that bad happened within the past year, I conjured up localities
to my memory which seemed too attractive to have existed in
reality. I wandered along London streets, comparing the noise
and bustle with the deep solitudes of Ceylon, and I felt like the
sickly plants in a London parterre. I wanted the change to my
former life. I constantly found myself gazing into gunmakers'
shops, and these I sometimes entered abstractedly to examine some
rifle exposed in the window. Often have I passed an hour in
boring the unfortunate gunmakers to death by my suggestions for
various improvements in rifles and guns, which, as I was not a
purchaser, must have been extremely edifying.
Time passed, and the moment at length arrived when I decided once
more to see Ceylon. I determined to become a settler at Newera
Ellia, where I could reside in a perfect climate, and
nevertheless enjoy the sports of the low country at my own will.
Thus, the recovery from a fever in Ceylon was the hidden cause of
my settlement at Newera Ellia. The infatuation for sport, added
to a gypsy-like love of wandering and complete independence, thus
dragged me away from home and from a much-loved circle.
In my determination to reside at Newera Ellia, I hoped to be able
to carry out some of those visionary plans for its improvement
which I have before suggested; and I trusted to be enabled to
effect such a change in the rough face of Nature in that locality
as to render a residence at Newera Ellia something approaching to
a country life in England, with the advantage of the whole of
Ceylon for my manor, and no expense of gamekeepers.
To carry out these ideas it was necessary to set to work; and I
determined to make a regular settlement at Newera Ellia,
sanguinely looking forward to establishing a little English
village around my own residence.
Accordingly, I purchased an extensive tract of land from the
government, at twenty shillings per acre. I engaged an excellent
bailiff, who, with his wife and daughter, with nine other
emigrants, including a blacksmith, were to sail for my intended
settlement in Ceylon.
I purchased farming implements of the most improved
descriptions, seeds of all kinds, saw-mills, etc., etc., and the
following stock: A half-bred bull (Durham and Hereford), a
well-bred Durham cow, three rams (a Southdown, Leicester and
Cotswold), and a thorough-bred entire horse by Charles XII.; also
a small pack of foxhounds and a favorite greyhound ("Bran").
My brother had determined to accompany me; and with emigrants,
stock, machinery, hounds, and our respective families, the good
ship "Earl of Hardwick," belonging to Messrs. Green & Co.,
sailed from London in September, 1848. I had previously left
England by the overland mail of August to make arrangements at
Newera Ellia for the reception of the whole party.
I had as much difficulty in making up my mind to the proper spot
for the settlement as Noah's dove experienced in its flight from
the ark. However, I wandered over the neighboring plains and
jungles of Newera Ellia, and at length I stuck my walking-stick
into the ground where the gentle undulations of the country would
allow the use of the plough. Here, then, was to be the
I had chosen the spot at the eastern extremity of the Newera
Ellia plain, on the verge of the sudden descent toward Badulla.
This position was two miles and a half from Newera Ellia, and was
far more agreeable and better adapted for a settlement, the land
being comparatively level and not shut in by mountains.
It was in the dreary month of October, when the south-west
monsoon howls in all its fury across the mountains; the mist
boiled up from the valleys and swept along the surface of the
plains, obscuring the view of everything, except the pattering
rain which descended without ceasing day or night. Every sound
was hushed, save that of the elements and the distant murmuring
roar of countless waterfalls; not a bird chirped, the dank white
lichens hung from the branches of the trees, and the wretchedness
of the place was beyond description.
I found it almost impossible to persuade the natives to work in
such weather; and it being absolutely necessary that cottages
should be built with the greatest expedition, I was obliged to
offer an exorbitant rate of wages. In about fortnight, however,
the wind and rain showed flags of truce in the shape of white
clouds set in a blue sky. The gale ceased, and the skylarks
warbled high in air, giving life and encouragement to the whole
scene. It was like a beautiful cool mid-summer in England.
I had about eighty men at work; and the constant click-clack of
axes, the felling of trees, the noise of saws and hammers and the
perpetual chattering o the coolies gave a new character to the
wild spot upon which I had fixed.
The work proceeded rapidly; neat white cottages soon appeared in
the forest; and I expected to have everything in readiness for
the emigrants on their arrival. I rented a tolerably good house
in Newera Ellia, and so far everything had progressed well.
The "Earl of Hardwick" arrived after a prosperous voyage, with
passengers and stock all in sound health; the only casualty on
board had been to one of the hounds. In a few days all started
from Colombo for Newera Ellia. The only trouble was, How to get
the cow up? She was a beautiful beast, a thorough-bred
"shorthorn," and she weighed about thirteen hundredweight. She
was so fat that a march of one hundred and fifteen miles in a
tropical climate was impossible. Accordingly a van was arranged
for her, which the maker assured me would carry an elephant. But
no sooner had the cow entered it than the whole thing came down
with a crash, and the cow made her exit through the bottom. She
was therefore obliged to start on foot in company with the bull,
sheep, horse and hounds, orders being given that ten miles a day,
divided between morning and evening, should be the maximum march
during the journey.
The emigrants started per coach, while our party drove up in a
new clarence which I had brought from England. I mention this,
as its untimely end will be shortly seen.
Four government elephant-carts started with machinery, farming
implements, etc., etc., while a troop of bullock-bandies carried
the lighter goods. I had a tame elephant waiting at the foot of
the Newera Ellia Pass to assist in carrying up the baggage and
There had been a vast amount of trouble in making all the
necessary arrangements, but the start was completed, and at
length we were all fairly off. In an enterprise of this kind many
disappointments were necessarily to be expected, and I had
prepared myself with the patience of Job for anything that might
happen. It was well that I had done so, for it was soon put to
Having reached Ramboddé, at the foot of the Newera Ellia Pass, in
safety, I found that the carriage was so heavy that the horses
were totally unable to ascend the pass. I therefore left it at
the rest-house while we rode up the fifteen miles to Newera
Ellia, intending to send for the empty vehicle in a few days.
The whole party of emigrants and ourselves reached Newera Ellia
in safety. On the following day I sent down the groom with a
pair of horses to bring up the carriage; at the same time I sent
down the elephant to bring some luggage from Ramboddé.
Now this groom, "Henry Perkes," was one of the emigrants, and he
was not exactly the steadiest of the party; I therefore cautioned
him to be very careful in driving up the pass, especially in
crossing the narrow bridges and turning the corners. He started
on his mission.
The next day a dirty-looking letter was put in my hand by a
native, which, being addressed to me, ran something in this
"Honord Zur "I'm sorry to hinform you that the carrige and osses
has met with a haccidint and is tumbled down a preccippice and
its a mussy as I didn't go too. The preccippice isn't very deep
bein not above heighy feet or therabouts - the hosses is got up
but is very bad - the carrige lies on its back and we can't stir
it nohow. Mr. _____ is very kind, and has lent above a hunderd
niggers, but they aint no more use than cats at liftin. Plese Zur
come and see whats to be done. "Your Humbel Servt, "H. PERKES."
This was pleasant, certainly - a new carriage and a pair of fine
Australian horses smashed before they reached Newera Ellia!
This was, however, the commencement of a chapter of accidents. I
went down the pass, and there, sure enough, I had a fine
bird's-eye view of the carriage down a precipice on the road
side. One horse was so injured that it was necessary to destroy
him; the other died a few days after. Perkes had been
intoxicated; and, while driving at a full gallop round a corner,
over went the carriages and horses.
On my return to Newera Ellia, I found a letter informing me that
the short-horn cow had halted at Amberpussé, thirty-seven miles
from Colombo, dangerously ill. The next morning another letter
informed me that she was dead. This was a sad loss after the
trouble of bringing so fine an animal from England; and I
regretted her far more than both carriage and horses together, as
my ideas for breeding some thorough-bred stock were for the
There is nothing like one misfortune for breeding another; and
what with the loss of carriage, horses and cow, the string of
accidents had fairly commenced. The carriage still lay
inverted; and although a tolerable specimen of a smash, I
determined to pay a certain honor to its remains by not allowing
it to lie and rot upon the ground. Accordingly, I sent the
blacksmith with a gang of men, and Perkes was ordered to
accompany the party. I also sent the elephant to assist in
battling the body of the carriage up the precipice.
Perkes, having been much more accustomed to riding than walking
during his career as groom, was determined to ride the elephant
down the pass; and he accordingly mounted, insisting at the same
time that the mahout should put the animal into a trot. In vain
the man remonstrated, and explained that such a pace would
injure the elephant on a journey; threats prevailed, and the
beast was soon swinging along at full trot, forced on by the
sharp driving-hook, with the delighted Perkes striding across its
neck, riding, an imaginary race.
On the following day the elephant-driver appeared at the front
door, but without the elephant. I immediately foreboded some
disaster, which was soon explained. Mr. Perkes had kept up the
pace for fifteen miles, to Ramboddé, when, finding that the
elephant was not required, he took a little refreshment in the
shape of brandy and water, and then, to use his own expression,
"tooled the old elephant along till he came to a standstill."
He literally forced the poor beast up the steep pass for seven
miles, till it fell down and shortly after died.
Mr. Perkes was becoming an expensive man: a most sagacious and
tractable elephant was now added to his list of victims; and he
had the satisfaction of knowing that he was one of the few men
in the world who had ridden an elephant to death.
That afternoon, Mr. Perkes was being wheeled about the bazaar in
a wheelbarrow, insensibly drunk, by a brother emigrant, who was
also considerably elevated. Perkes had at some former time lost
an eye by the kick of a horse, and to conceal the disfigurement
he wore a black patch, which gave him very much the expression of
a bull terrier with a similar mark. Notwithstanding this
disadvantage in appearance, he was perpetually making successful
love to the maidservants, and he was altogether the most
incorrigible scamp that I ever met with, although I must do him
the justice to say he was thoroughly honest and industrious.
I shortly experienced great trouble with the emigrants; they
could not agree with the bailiff, and openly defied his
authority. I was obliged to send two of them to jail as an
example to the others. This produced the desired effect, and we
shortly got regularly to work.
There were now about a hundred and fifty natives employed in the
tedious process of exterminating jungle and forest, not felling,
but regularly digging out every tree and root, then piling, and
burning the mass, and leveling the cleared land in a state to
receive the plough. This was very expensive work, amounting to
about thirty pounds per acre. The root of a large tree would
frequently occupy three men a couple of days in its extraction,
which, at the rate of wages, at one shilling per diem, was very
costly. The land thus cleared was a light sandy loam, about
eighteen inches in depth with a gravel subsoil, and was
considered to be far superior to the patina (or natural
grass-land) soil, which was, in appearance, black loam on the
higher ground and of a peaty nature in the swamps.
The bailiff (Mr. Fowler) was of opinion that the patina soil was
the best; therefore, while the large native force was engaged in
sweeping the forest from the surface, operations were commenced
according to agricultural rules upon the patinas.
A tract of land known as the "Moon Plains," comprising about two
hundred acres, was immediately commenced upon. As some persons
considered the settlement at Newera Ellia the idea of a lunatic,
the "Moon Plain" was an appropriate spot for the experiment. A
tolerably level field of twenty acres was fenced in, and the work
begun by firing the patina and burning off all the grass. Then
came three teams, as follows:
Lord Ducie's patent cultivator, drawn by an elephant; a skim,
drawn by another elephant, and a long wood plough, drawn by eight
The field being divided into three sections, was thus quickly
pared of the turf, the patent cultivator working admirably, and
easily drawn by the elephant.
The weather being very dry and favorable for the work, the turf
was soon ready for burning; and being piled in long rows, much
trouble was saved in subsequently spreading the ashes. This
being completed, we had six teams at work, two horse, two
bullock, and two elephant; and the ploughing was soon finished.
The whole piece was then sown with oats.
It was an interesting sight to see the rough plain yielding to
the power of agricultural implements, especially as some of these
implements were drawn by animals not generally seen in plough
harness at home.
The "cultivator," which was sufficiently large to anchor any
twenty of the small native bullocks, looked a mere nothing
behind the splendid elephant who worked it, and it cut through
the wiry roots of the rank turf as a knife peels an apple. It
was amusing, to see this same elephant doing the work of three
separate teams when the seed was in the ground. She first drew a
pair of heavy harrows; attached to these and following behind
were a pair of light harrows, and behind these came a roller.
Thus the land had its first and second harrowing at the same time
with the rolling.
This elephant was particularly sagacious; and her farming work
being completed, she was employed in making, a dam across a
stream. She was a very large animal, and it was beautiful to
witness her wonderful sagacity in carrying and arranging the
heavy timber required. The rough trunks of trees from the lately
felled forest were lying within fifty yards of the spot, and the
trunks required for the dam were about fifteen feet long and
fourteen to eighteen inches in diameter. These she carried in
her mouth, shifting her hold along the log before she raised it
until she had obtained the exact balance; then, steadying it with
her trunk, she carried every log to the spot, and laid them
across the stream in parallel rows. These she herself arranged,
under the direction of her driver, with the reason apparently of
a human being.
The most extraordinary part of her performance was the arranging
of two immense logs of red keenar (one of the heaviest woods).
These were about eighteen feet long and two feet in diameter, and
they were in tended to lie on either bank of the stream, parallel
to the brook and close to the edge. These she placed greatest
with the care in their exact positions, unassisted by any one.*
She rolled them gently over with her head, then with one foot,
and keeping her trunk on the opposite side of the log, she
checked its way whenever its own momentum would have carried it
into the stream. Although I thought the work admirably done, she
did not seem quite satisfied, and she presently got into the
stream, and gave one end of the log an extra push with her head,
which completed her task, the two trees lying exactly parallel to
each other, close to the edge of either bank.
*Directed of course by her driver.
Tame elephants are constantly employed in building stone
bridges, when the stones required for the abutments are too heavy
to be managed by crowbars.
Many were the difficulties to contend against when the first
attempts were made in agriculture at Newera Ellia. No sooner
were the oats a few inches above ground than they were subjected
to the nocturnal visits of elk and hogs in such numbers that they
were almost wholly destroyed.
A crop of potatoes of about three acres on the newly-cleared
forest land was totally devoured by grubs. The bull and stock
were nearly starved on the miserable pasturage of the country,
and no sooner bad the clover sprung up in the new clearings than
the Southdown ram got hoven upon it and died. The two remaining
rams, not having been accustomed to much high living since their
arrival at Newera Ellia, got pugnacious upon the clover, and in a
pitched battle the Leicester ram killed the Cotswold, and
remained solus. An epidemic appeared among the cattle, and
twenty-six fine bullocks died within a few days; five Australian
horses died during the first year, and everything seemed to be
going into the next world as fast is possible.
Having made up my mind to all manner of disappointments, these
casualties did not make much impression on me, and the loss of a
few crops at the outset was to be expected; but at length a
deplorable and unexpected event occurred.
The bailiff's family consisted of a wife and daughter; the former
was the perfection of a respectable farmer's wife, whose gentle
manners and amiable disposition bad gained her many friends; the
daughter was a very pretty girl of nineteen.
For some time Mrs. Fowler had been suffering from an illness of
long standing, and I was suddenly called to join in the mournful
procession to her grave. This was indeed a loss which I deeply
At length death left the little settlement, and a ray of sunshine
shone through the gloom which would have made many despond.
Fortune smiled upon everything. Many acres of forest were
cleared, and the crops succeeded each other in rapid succession.
I had, however, made the discovery that without manure nothing
would thrive. This had been a great disappointment, as much
difficulty lay in procuring the necessary item.
Had the natural pasturage been good, it would soon have been an
easy matter to procure any amount of manure by a corresponding
number of cattle; but, as it happened, the natural pasturage was
so bad that no beast could thrive upon it. Thus everything, even
grass-land, had to be manured; and, fortunately, a cargo of guano
having arrived in the island, we were enabled to lay down some
good clover and seeds.
The original idea of cultivation, driving the forests from the
neighborhood of Newera Ellia, was therefore dispelled. Every
acre of land must be manured, and upon a large scale at Newera
Ellia that is impossible. With manure everything will thrive to
perfection with the exception of wheat. There is neither lime
nor magnesia in the soil. An abundance of silica throws a good
crop of straw, but the grain is wanting: Indian corn will not
form grain from the same cause. On the other hand, peas, beans,
turnips, carrots, cabbages, etc., produce crops as heavy as those
of England. Potatoes, being the staple article of production,
are principally cultivated, as the price of twenty pounds per ton
yields a large profit. These, however, do not produce larger
crops than from four to six tons per acre when heavily manured;
but as the crop is fit to dig in three months from the day of
planting, money is quickly made.
There are many small farmers, or rather gardeners, at Newera
Ellia who have succeeded uncommonly well. One of the emigrants
who left my service returned to England in three years with three
hundred pounds; and all the industrious people succeed. I am now
without one man whom I brought out. The bailiff farms a little
land of his own, and his pretty daughter is married ; the others
are scattered here and there, but I believe all are doing well,
especially the blacksmith, upon whose anvil Fortune has smiled
By the bye, that same blacksmith has the right stamp of a "better
half" for an emigrant's wife. According to his own description
she is a "good knock-about kind of a wife." I recollect seeing
her, during a press of work, rendering assistance to her Vulcan
in a manner worthy of a Cyclop's spouse. She was wielding an
eighteen-pound sledgehammer, sending the sparks flying at every
blow upon the hot iron, and making the anvil ring again, while
her husband turned the metal at every stroke, as if attending on
Nasmyth's patent steam hammer.
It has been a great satisfaction to me that all the people whom I
brought out are doing well; even Henry Perkes, of
elephant-jockeying notoriety, is, I believe, prospering as a
groom in Madras.
<< 1: Chapter I || 3: Chapter III >>