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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Eleanor Reid in Malacca, 1800

On the 6th of August [1800], in the evening, we came to a place called Saint John’s Island, where we anchored for the night. On the next morning a Malay boat came alongside, with three fine turtles, and a quantity of fish fresh caught, as well as some which had been dried in the sun. The captain purchased all they had with dollars, for the persons in the boat would take nothing else in regular barter. The turtle might weigh about two hundred to two hundred and fifty pounds each, and the three cost only five dollars and some spirits, the latter of which they seemed to prize highly.

We now left the straits of Singapore and entered the straits of Malacca, having the great Island of Sumatra on the left, and the very southernmost extremity of the continent of Asia, called the Peninsula of Malacca, on our right. Our only interruption, on passing these straits in the day, arose from very hard squalls, with much rain, thunder and lightning. These squalls generally lasted about an hour.  We always anchored and furled the sails when the squall was approaching, and enjoyed a most agreeable change after it had ceased, as the thermometer would fall from ninety to eighty and seventy-five degrees. I may here remark, that notwithstanding the difference of climate we had hitherto experienced, our seamen were all healthy, a circumstance perhaps which may be chiefly attributed to the large supply of fine pigs we got at Norfolk Island. This enabled them to have a fresh meal three times per week, and they were constantly at full allowance of water.

In the afternoon of the 9th, we had again the satisfaction of beholding a place where civilized inhabitants of our country lived; this was the fort of Malacca, which, with the city, had a very fine appearance as the ship entered the roads. We found lying here the ship Commerce, Capt. Lane, who with his purser, Mr. Edward Brightman, a young man of colour, came on board as soon as the ship anchored; he made many inquiries as to where we had procured the spices, &c. These questions the captain did not think proper to answer; but the purser, Mr. Brightman, who understood the language of our lascars, was more successful, as they told him all they knew, and his ship was employed in the Malay trade.

The next morning the captain went on shore, to wait upon Col. Aldwell Taylor, the commandant at this place, who no sooner understood that I was on board, than he came off to invited me on shore. He would take no denial, and informed me that Mrs. Taylor had apartments at the castle quite at my service. There was here no alternative; I soon packed up a few necessaries, and accompanied my husband and the colonel on shore. On landing I could make no immediate observations, being hurried into a palanquin, and shut up to avoid the heat of the sun. This mode of conveyance was indeed a great novelty to me, being the first of the kind I had seen; however, I was not so closely shut up as to preclude me from observing the shops and houses as we passed. They mostly appeared built of wood, having three, and some four stories, and reminded me of the Dutch houses at the Cape, the windows and doors being painted green, and having a similar external appearance. In the shops were plenty of sugar-canes, and all kinds of tropical fruits.

We soon approached, however, and entered the castle-gates, where I was received by Mrs. Taylor in the most polite and friendly way; her pleasing manners, affability, and ease, very soon convinced me I was welcome. There was another lady with her, a Mrs. Butler, a distant relation, whose husband was a merchant, and formerly commanded a ship in the country trade.

The photographs of Malacca were taken by Ron in 1979.


Antoine Vanner said...

Fascinating as always!

Joan Druett said...

Thank you! Mrs. R. is fascinating -- she seems alertly interested in everything she sees and learns, and yet is so calm otherwise that the reader tends to forget that England was at war at the time ... and the seas were full of privateers.