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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In the Bay of Bengal

More from Eleanor, wife of Captain Hugh Reid of the East Indiaman Friendship

On the 24th [August 1800], the ship being ready, and the troops embarked, under the command of Lieut. L., of the Company’s Bengal army, we prepared for sailing. There were only eighty sepoys, besides followers, but certainly they were the finest-looking native soldiers I had seen, the lowest in stature exceeded five feet nine inches. Another passenger joined us here, a Mr. F., purser in the navy.

Next morning the land-breeze enable us to leave Penang; we sailed pleasantly for some distance along the shore of Queda, which is covered with wood and verdure, from the water’s edge to the summit of the mountains. There were sent on board a number of boxes of a plant called Gamutta, intended for the botanic garden at Calcutta. This tree throws out black fibres from the large leaves near the top, like horse-hair, which is twisted and made into very strong ropes and cables; it is a species of the palm-tree. We had also a pair of large cassawaries, a present from Sir George Leith to Lord Mornington at Calcutta.  I purchased a pair of beautiful crown pigeons, which I intended for my friends in England.

In the afternoon we passed the islands of Latta, and came in sight of Pulo Boutou [Pulau Betong]. Close in with this island a suspicious ship was discovered, under Danish colours; the crew were at work to disguise her, by placing black canvas over the quarter, to make the people on board us suppose she had a poop: this artifice did not escape notice, and preparation was accordingly made for an encounter.

A difference of opinion now took place between our captain and Lieut. L.; the former wished the sepoys to be kept out of sight until we were certain of the discovered sail being an enemy, and in that case for them not to appear until the musketry could take effect. At this time the stranger had made all sail towards us, and our ship had shortened sail to wait her approach the sooner, as the Friendship was not in a trim to run. The captain was firm in not letting the sepoys at present to be shewn; however we were soon relieved from anxiety, by the strange ship pulling down the steering sails and standing away from us. Now all concurred in one opinion, and that was not to follow her. We continued our course, and before dark she was out of sight. It was not doubted but that the strange ship was an enemy, and some expected that she would turn and attack us in the night.

We now passed on, with fine weather, between the Nicobar Islands and Junk-ceylon [Jung-Ceylon], until we came abreast of the Andaman Islands, when the weather became very unsettled, having constant gales, with heavy squalls of wind and much rain, which occasioned the loss of several sails that were blown from the yards, with much damage to the rigging. Owing to the thickness of the atmosphere, we had no observation of the sun for several days, so that the ship’s situation could not be exactly ascertained; at the same time we were in shallow water, which rendered our state very alarming. We were compelled to carry a heavy press of sail, both day and night, to keep the ship off the Pegu shore. 

In the afternoon of the 6th of September, our apprehensions were at length relieved, by seeing to the leeward of us that dangerous reef called the Alguada or Nagada, which disclosed to the officers our exact situation. These rocks lie near Diamond Island; we passed them at three or four miles distance, with thankful hearts to the Almighty for our preservation. The waves were dashing over the projecting reef in a frightful manner.

[Footnote from the editor of the Asiatic Journal: It is rather singular that the Travers Indiaman, belonging to the same establishment, should be totally lost at this place several years afterwards, and twenty-two persons drowned.]

Before morning we had cleared Cape Negrals, the south-western extremity of Pegu. The weather still continued boisterous; but we now had plenty of sea-room, having entered the great Bay of Bengal. It was reckoned the breaking up of the south-west monsoon, which finishes at the autumnal equinox; the north-east monsoon succeeds, and continues until the vernal equinox. Seamen expect bad weather at the change of each monsoon, and prepare accordingly.

We were great alarmed one evening by Lieut. L. on a sudden remarking, in conversation, that he perceived the scent of something burning in the ship; almost at the same instant the mate of the watch called out to the steward below to know what it was that caused such a smell of fire. We were all in the greatest agitation at the moment, and poor Lieut. L., from weakness of nerves, fainted; but we were soon happily relieved from further apprehension, by its being discovered that the person who had lighted the binnacle lamp had left a cotton rag in it, which acted like a slow match, and kept smouldering. As soon as this was removed, all was quiet again.

When Mr. L. had recovered from the swoon, he acknowledged to me that it was a family failing; that his mother was the most nervous woman alive, and that he had often tried to conquer this affliction in himself. It was observed, that it was a pity he had chosen the army for a profession. He replied, that it was the only school to eradicate the disease; that when the privateer fired the broadside at the Arniston, in Bencoolen Roads, he was standing with Capt. M[arjoribanks]. at the gangway, not at all suspecting such a salutation, and that he never in his life had more command of himself, and readily assisted in preparing the ship for defence. He added, however, that he had been attacked in the same nervous way on board the Arniston, when she was struck with lightning. He was a mild, gentlemanly, well-informed young man.

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