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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Calcutta, City of Palaces


September, 1800

The next morning we got under weigh and proceeded towards Garden reach. The finest prospect burst upon our view as we rounded a point at the bottom of the reach; we behind a number of elegant detached mansions, surrounded by every indication of affluence and elegance; they are seated in the midst of beautiful meadows and pleasure grounds, where the grass is like velvet to the water’s edge. The appearance of this delightful spot far exceeded my expectation; it only wanted the variety of hill and dale to make it fairy land. 

The tide now rushed down with such force, that we were obliged to come once more to an anchor a little below the Botanic Garden, which was on our left; and as the Captain wished to inform Doctor [William Roxburgh], the Company’s botanist, that he had in charge the plants sent from Penang, the sun being low, I was induced to land, and take a walk in the fine gardens. We were most kindly received by the Doctor, who shewed us every thing worth notice. Mrs. R. did not speak English like a native; I understood she was a native of Germany. She was extremely civil, and requested that I would spend a few days with her as soon as we were a little settled in town. 

William Roxburgh

While passing through the different beautiful walks, I was surprised to see numbers of jackalls and foxes running about, as if they were domesticated, and asked the reason: the Doctor said that when the sun was down they always came from their lurking places; that they were so numerous in the country, it was impossible to keep them under. We then returned on board, after promising to make frequent visits to Doctor and Mrs. R. who gave us a general invitation.

Next morning the wind was adverse, and the freshes running so strong that the ship could not move. The river here was covered with vessels of all descriptions; many brigs and sloops, with large clumsy barges called burrs, were going down to the Indiamen with cargoes and provisions: there were also most beautiful pleasure vessels named budgerows, pinnaces, and snake boats, in constant motion. This scene was interesting.

Towards noon a breeze sprung up, which enabled the ship to proceed, when we soon came in sight of the flag staff of Fort William, passed quickly up towards it, and saluted it with nine guns. This compliment was returned from the saluting battery. The city of Calcutta was now in sight, with its stately buildings, appearing like so many palaces, particularly those about Chowringa. This, with the numerous masts of the shipping, lying off the town, which produced a grand effect, engaged all our attention and admiration. 

None on board were more pleased at our arrival than the Sepoys; they had been absent some years at Bencoolen. They were all landed in the evening; the Captain then went on shore to report the ship, and to hire a house while the ship remained. We came to anchor off the Banks Hall, where the master-attendant has an office, near what is called the old fort, but which retains no vestiges of a fortification as far as we could observe from the anchorage. On the opposite side of the river a number of handsome looking villas adorn Howrah, or Saulkea; this suburb is situated abreast of Calcutta. Conspicuous amongst the buildings is the large one called the Female Orphan School.

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