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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Mrs. R. goes sightseeing on Penang

[August 1800]We set off early next morning in gigs to view the waterfall; during our ride we passed for several miles between an avenue of the cocoa-nut and beetle-nut trees, and many huts or sheds occupied by that industrious race the Chinese, who have charge of the pepper plantations. The supported twig of the pepper plant appeared to me not unlike our hop plants, supported by poles; the pepper hangs in bunches like our currants when green. 

We were highly regaled with the delightful fragrance of the aromatic shrubs, as we passed to the place under the hill, where we were obliged to dismount and follow our guide along a narrow winding path. In this spot the sun could not be observed at noon-day, so completely were its rays intercepted by the thick foliage of the lofty trees on each side. In many parts it was a thick impenetrable jungle, which had never been entered by man. We heard the noise of the descending waters some time before we came near, a circumstance that roused the imagination, and prepared us for something magnificent. I had provided a pair of thick shoes, understanding that the walk was wet and heavy, particularly near the fall. Notwithstanding our fatigue, however, we were well repaid when we arrived at a certain point near the rocky bason, or natural reservoir, where this grand cascade descends with a roaring noise that entirely drowns the sound of the voice, and obliged us to reserve our admiration and opinions.

After we left the spot there was a haze all round the place, caused by the vapour of the falling stream, at the same time so cool as made it unsafe to sit long after our fatiguing walk. As we looked up through the open branch of the trees to the highest source of the dashing element, it had a grand effect upon our minds. It was an imposing spectacle to behold the crystal stream impetuously rumbling over the rocky steep—

“Defying power of man its passage to stem
“Till with Ocean, the mother, it met.”

The fall is said to be upwards of a hundred feet above where we stood. One of the party had brought a small mirror, which by turning one’s back, and looking into the glass in a certain position, presented the alarming appearance of the waters falling upon our heads.

Having then rested, and feasted our eyes sufficiently, we thought of satisfying our appetite, which was acknowledged by all to be pretty keen. We only waited the arrival of the captain, who, to our surprise, was still absent. We knew he could not miss the way, as there was no other path; however he soon joined us, and explained the cause of his delay. Having staid behind to alter the stirrups of his saddle, and left the horse with the man who had charge of the gigs, he advanced alone up the path a considerable way, when he observed a snake coiled, and partly lying in the pathway. This induced him to retreat and make a noise, to fright it out of his way, but the reptile kept its station; having, however, determined to make a bold push to pass it, if possible, and procured a large branch of a tree, he prepared to strike it while it lay shooting out its forked tongue at every respiration, and coming pretty nigh, he with all his force aimed a blow, which struck it near the head, and repeating the strokes, he made it quite defenceless, and passed on to us. 

After our refreshment we returned, much gratified with the sight and scenery altogether. As we descended, we saw the snake writhing in agonies, being covered with ants, who were fastened upon it. One of the party soon put it out of its misery, and carried it on to town; we there found that it measured three feet nine inches, and was reckoned of the poisonous kind. There were a sort of leeches amongst the grass, which bit several of the gentlemen on the ancle above the show, and made the blood flow; but the bite was so small as not to be perceptible until the blood flowed from it.

We returned to George Town about four o’clock next morning; I was honoured by a visit from Lady Leith, with an invitation to dinner on the following day. She appeared about the age of twenty-five, with handsome features, but of a sickly appearance; she said that the settlement was scarcely tolerable, for want of society, and after chatting some time took her leave. In the afternoon, Mr. Baird remarked that there were two of the greatest beauties brought for sale from the Queda shore that ever were seen, and that if I would accompany him after the sun was low he would be happy to shew them, as they were at present placed within his grounds at the water-side. 

No duty as yet, he added, had been fixed upon for their importation. Accordingly we went towards the jetty, where two of the most horrid monsters that ever met the eye were seen, covered with mud. They were, in fact, two young alligators, with their mouths tied up, and rattans twisted round their legs: one was about ten or eleven feet long, and the other about nine, but so disfigured with mud that we could see nothing of the colour of their bodies; thick scales appeared near their tails, but we had no opportunity of examining them a second time, as they regained their liberty: it was supposed by some that they had rolled down, as their feet were so secured they could not use them.

The next day we waited upon Sir G. and Lady L. at dinner, accompanied by our host, who was also invited. I was rather surprised at not meeting any other ladies at the government house, but was afterwards informed that Lady L. had but recently arrived, and had not formed much intimacy as yet with the ladies of the settlement. To me it was on this account less a relief to be entertained on shore, and less a disappointment that the company soon broke up.

I have been unable to find the source of the two lines Eleanor Reid quoted when she was inspired by the sight of the waterfall (pictured at about the same time she was there). Maybe she was inspired enough to make them up -- or maybe her memory was faulty.

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