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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Setting up house in Calcutta

Eleanor Reid's diary continues

[September 1800]

When my husband return I found he had procured a house in a street called Cossitollah, at eighty rupees per month, unfurnished.

Just before breakfast this morning, Mr. Muirhead informed me that a person had come from the shore with a present of fruit, &c. saying that he had got the house matted, and all ready for our reception, and that a couple of palanquins and bearers were waiting for us, at the ghant, or landing place. 

As my husband had gone on shore very early, and I could not think of quitting the ship before his return, I desired to see the person who had come off.  He advanced to the cabin door, took off his shoes, and made three salams with great apparent humility; he was dressed in fine white muslin, thrown loosely over his body and shoulders, over this he had a beautiful Cashmere shawl. His complexion was not very dark, and his person was upon the whole rather prepossessing; he appeared to be about twenty-five years of age; he had two attendants. I inquired if he spoke English: he replied, “not great much.” I soon however understood by his broken sentences that his name was Kissen Chunda Bose; that the Captain, then mate, had employed him as sircar, and that he wished me to speak in his behalf now, which I promised to do. 

At that instant the Captain came on board and informed me that all was ready on shore, and that it would be advisable to land before the sun got too high. We accordingly left the ship and proceeded to the spot where the palanquins were waiting; we seated ourselves in them, and as we passed along the winding streets new scenes opened to our view. Every part was thronged with natives, of whom I shall not attempt a description until I have been some time resident among them. 

We soon gained our appointed station in Cossitollah Street, where I was glad to rest, for in the narrow streets I found the heat very oppressive; the house was large and convenient, having on the first floor, which was the upper story, four good bed rooms, a spacious hall, with a veranda in front; apartments of the same size below, occupied by the ship’s stores, and a large piece of ground, called the compound, at the back, for the live stock, &c. A winding staircase led up to the flat roof terrace all round, to which we sometimes resorted after our evening’s ride for the benefit of the cool air.

We found ourselves obliged to submit to the custom of the country, in keeping up the following establishment: a Durwan, or porter, at the gate; a Sircar and two assistants for the ship; a Bobagee, or cook, and his assistant; a Beastie, or water carrier; a Mater, or linkboy, and a sweeper, for the house; a set of bearers for one palanquin, seven.

In addition to these we had the servants from the ship, and an ayah, or female attendant, for myself. All these, we were informed, were absolutely necessary in this place, we were therefore obliged to confirm. 

The same evening, my husband drove me round the circular road, Chouringa, and the course, to which all the fashionables of Calcutta resort morning and evening; the course is regularly watered in the dry season, which renders it by far the most agreeable place for an airing. I thought at first that all the Europeans here looked sickly and pallid, but this impression wore off after a short time. 

I was introduced to several very respectable women, amongst whom were Mrs. K., now Lady M. K. with whom I frequently took a morning drive; I found her pleasing, and well informed; she kindly explained every thing which appeared a novelty to me. She resided with her sister, Mrs. J., whose husband was a merchant, and from whom we received friendly attentions. We were under the necessity of limiting our morning’s exercise to an hour or two, for after seven o’clock the sun became so powerful that we were glad to return as quickly as possible to the house, and to remain there until evening, unless obliged to pay morning visits, which was generally done at the expense of a bad head-ache.

One morning the sircar told me we should have good fortune, for three argalls, or adjutants [cranes], had rested upon our house-top all night. They had no doubt been attracted by the rats, which were generally caught in a trap, and thrown out at night. The quantity these gigantic birds will devour is astonishing. One morning, nine large rats had been caught, which one by one were thrown to an adjutant, who picked them up and swallowed them as a pigeon would peas; after which a leg of Bengal mutton, from which only a slice or two had been cut, was thrown out, which he picked up in a dexterous manner, and bolted down his throat. 

The crows however, in this country, are the most daring of the feathered tribe; I have seen them come in at the windows of the dining room, and take cold meat off the table. So expert are they in thieving, that a watch is obliged to be set to prevent a surprise; a fine little English terrier, which we had was often annoyed by these depredators, as well as by the kites. When meat was sent out for the dog a battle generally ensued between her and the crows; while she was occupied in chasing one another came to plunder, the kites at the same time darting down from the house top, snatched up in their talons the bones of contention; those were in their turn attacked by their own tribe, and obliged to surrender the spoil in the air to others, who in their turn found themselves unable to resist some new competition.

A View of Government House from the Eastward," 1819. Engraved by R Havell Jr. In Views of Calcutta and its Environs by James Baillie Fraser (publ. 1824). Interestingly shows a large number of Greater Adjutant Storks perched on the buildings.

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