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Friday, April 25, 2014

Mrs. R. explores Bengal by riverboat

Eleanor Reid's journal in Calcutta continues

Early in November [1800] a budgerow was engaged for an excursion to Chandernagore, a French settlement about forty miles above Calcutta. As we were to sleep in the budgerow, cots and curtains were provided, as well as table-linen, earthenware, and all necessaries for the trip. 

On the 6th we embarked, and proceeded with the flood tide as high as Cossipour, during which time we had a fine view of the fertile land on both sides the river; but it is too flat to be interesting. 

As we passed along we saw several fires at the edge of the water, and were told that human bodies were burning. This I could scarcely believe until we anchored close to the shore, where a poor woman was making great lamentation; and when our boatmen enquired the cause, she told them she was going to burn the body of her daughter, who had died that morning. She had been performing some part of the funeral ceremony at the water side, before setting fire to the pile, which was only a few yards off. 

Some of our party wished to examine it, but were told if they did, they would interrupt the ceremony, and distress the relatives. The pile was presently set in a blaze, and in the course of an hour the whole was consumed to ashes. The smoke which the wind occasional wafted towards us, had a most disagreeable smell. This is certainly the best mode of disposing of their dead; if they committed them to the Hoogley, they would be torn and mangled by sharks and birds of prey; and were they to bury them, they would be dug up by jackalls and wild dogs. To prevent this, the burial grounds of the Europeans are surrounded by a high wall.

Next day we passed Barrackpore, where the Governor-general has a country house, opposite to which is a Danish settlement called Serampore, where a society of English missionaries from Bristol have an establishment and a printing press; they are most useful in instructing the natives, and are much esteemed for their meek Christian deportment. We then passed Chinsurah, a Dutch settlement on the same side the river, a little above which we beheld a sight shocking to humanity. 

An old woman had been brought by her relatives to the bring of the river at low water to die; she was stretched on a sort of cradle in the scorching sun, and appeared delirious, crying out in a most piteous manner; some inhuman wretches belonging to her were looking on at a distance with apparent indifference. This is another effect of their brutalizing superstition; it is the privilege of certain castes to be carried, when life is despaired of, to fie on the banks of their sacred Ganges; and if the tide rises high enough to float them away before the breath is out of the body, their souls are believed to be secure of happiness.

In the afternoon we reached Chandernagore, where we landed, and had an excellent dinner at a French tavern. There was little to be seen here worth notice, except spacious empty house; for the greater part of the inhabitants had left the place on account of the war. We returned to the budgerow, and next day retraced our course to Calcutta, where we arrived the following evening.

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