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Escaping to 1896 India…

Posted Wednesday, 7th October 2015

It’s been a very busy few days here at Regent’s Park College.  All our new students have arrived and there is a much busier, more vibrant feel to the building than there has been over the summer.  All of the academics are here.  The main office is hectic.  As for the Library –  Emma, our college Librarian, has been busy doing inductions, Sukie has been busy with exhibitions, Lucy with the cataloguing, Julian with his Adlib database, Celia and Emily have been very busy with visitors and requests for information, and I have been busy setting up an online shop on Abe Books.  We have some real treasures for sale.  Some are duplicates, some do not relate at all to Baptist history/theology, but all of them are old and/or rare.  Please do have a look at our Abebooks shop, ( and our Amazon one for that matter ( , as we are in need of funds.  Thank you!

So, it is the end of the working day on Wednesday (7th October 2015) and I thought a few minutes with Mr Lorrain & co. would be a suitable way to wind down.  So sit back, have a cup of tea and relax as we find out what J Herbert and Fred were up to in 1896 India…

“There has not yet been sufficient rain to make the river rise high enough to allow the large Calcutta steamers to come up so far as Silchar, so we have to be content with the smaller boat.  We spend the whole day on the steamer, puffing away down stream, twisting and turning with the tortuous course of the river.  Now the beautiful North Cachar hills tower up before us, now we seem to be leaving them behind us, now they are on this side, now on that.  The man at the wheel has as much as he can do to turn us round the sharp bends & is incessantly spinning the wheel round, first this side, then that.  We are sitting on the upper deck on the part marked off for Sahibs & we wonder what the poor natives must be suffering if this is what they call first class accommodation.  The propeller takes good care that we so not forget that it is doing all the work, for it keeps the deck in a constant state of vibration; we can scarcely sit in our chairs, our heads bid fair to jump off our bodies.  A poor old gentleman close by, who is a regular Tichborne, seems to be suffering agony.  We attempt to read but it is an impossibility & the noise of the engine makes conversation anything but pleasant.  So at last we resign ourselves to our fate, hanging on to our chairs & hoping that we shall not fall to pieces before we reach the end of this first stage in our journey.  At Budarpur we see the piers of the bridge which is being built across the river & we can also see the cutting on the low hills not far away & we wonder how many more years will pass before the long promised railway to this place is really opened.  The fat gentleman gets off here & we go on, and sometime after dark reach Fenchoogang where we anchor for the night.

During the dry season & the early rains it is the custom for passengers from Silchar to Calcutta to change from the small steamer to the large one at Fenchoogang.  But we are not going direct to Calcutta.  We have planned to strike northwards from this place and to get to Calcutta by a very circuitous route, passing through the whole length of the Assam valley on our way thither.  As previously arranged by telegraph we find two pony traps awaiting us on the other side of the river when we awake in the morning.  We accordingly hire a boat, put all our belongings aboard & direct the Indian in charge to land us on the opposite shore.  Nothing more forlorn & piteous can be imagined than the two wretched beasts which are brought out & put into the shafts of the two ramshackle conveyances, which for courtesy’s sake we call “pony carts”.  It seems almost a sin to give these poor creatures the trouble of dragging us & our luggage all the way to Sylhet, and it is with a feeling of guilt that we climb into our seats, Fred and K in one trap & Khuma & I in the other.  The luggage is stowed away in a net under the carts & requires a good deal of watching to prevent it from jumping out.  There is a driver to each conveyance & they commence the journey be belabouring their wretched steeds with thick sticks, choosing as it seems to us, the most skinny parts on which to strike.  I now turn my attention towards the creature which is slowly drawing my trap along, & I marvel that men can be so cruel & heartless as to keep such wretched animals in constant work.  The one upon which I am gazing seems to possess absolutely no flesh, & is a mere framework of what once presumably was a pony; the bones stick out to such an extent that with every movement they look as if they must burst through the skin, & where the larger bones project beyond their surrounding prominences they are one mass of open sores caused by the rubbing of the rude harness & of cuts & bruises made with the driver’s stick.  I remonstrate with the native in question, & for a time he puts aside the stick, but the animal has grown so used to being thrashed that he positively refuses to be persuaded by any other means.  I look round & see that Fred’s pony is even worse than mine & besides having a wretched personal appearance has a vile temper, & every now & then stops short & threatens to back them into the ditch.  It is with some amount of fear for my friend’s safety that I watch the antics of the little brute, but by & by the fit passes and we all jog on again & come to the first ferry.  There is a good deal of delay here, but eventually we are trotting along as gaily as ever.  The country through which we are passing is perfectly flat, the road is raised slightly above the level of the surrounding rice fields, which at the present time are just beginning to be covered with water.  On either side of the road is a wide ditch from which the earth has been cast up to raise the road above the water.  Here & there we pass a native turning over his patch of soft muddy land with a primitive looking plough drawn by a yoke of oxen, or wending his way homeward with his oxen before him and his wooden plough on his shoulder.  We are not getting on at all well, there are numerous stoppages, first one & then the other of the horses takes it into his head to stop or go backwards or sideways & so we are not at all sorry when we spy a man coming towards us on horse-back at full gallop, whom we are given to understand is something to do with the proprietor of our turnouts.  Upon reaching us he salaams respectfully & goes off to rescue Fred & K. who are just on the point of being precipitated into the ditch backwards.  The man on horseback puts his steed in front of the one in the cart, & then starts at a gentle pace, the other following like a lamb.  When he comes up to me he gets in front of my horse & puts on some speed & away we all go after him.  This is something like, and we are speedily at the last ferry.  On the other side we find a kind of antiquated close cab awaiting us, it evidently being though below the dignity of a sahib to drive into the station of Sylhet in such swell conveyances as those we have just vacated.  The luggage is piled on the roof of the cab & one of the little carts is also loaded & away we go!”

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