We have much pleasure in giving extracts of a letter giving an
account of a most interesting little place called Tahang in Sumatra, lately
visited by Mr. Geo. Care, Chief Officer of the S.S. Battersea Bridge, which
called at the above place for coal en-route for Hong Kong.
Having a few hours to spare (there being a scarcity of coolies) the other officers and myself were enabled to explore the island somewhat, notwithstanding the great heat that prevailed, and we soon came to the conclusion that though we had visited many foreign countries, and seen strange and wonderful sights, the palm must be given to Pulo Wey, of which Tahang forms a part. That Sunday we saw more wonders of the mighty deep than falls to the lot of most people in so short a time. I only wish I had the descriptive powers of a Rudyard Kipling, for instance, so that I might convey to you something better than a vague idea of what it was like.
Along the shore, which was only a mere strip of sand about 50 feet wide, were numerous pools or miniature bogs rather, of deep blue water. The bottom could be plainly seen, and so we feasted our eyes on a number of submarine gardens, wherein strange fish and other marine creatures in countless numbers and variety had their habitation. Here in these pools were delicate fern-like specimens of coral, some white, some green, and others reddish, and of every shape and form, large and small bushes of it, and exquisitely beautiful; then too the sea-weed (though I think the word weed is misplaced) was as beautiful, in its own particular way as the coral, also the anemones, which were of every colour, some star-like, others like flowers in form, and in and out among all this leisurely swam the fish, from tiny little blue things to quite large ones, barred with gold and jet black, and some that changed colour as they moved, resembling almost exactly the colour of the particular piece of coral or sea-weed directly beneath them; it would take me hours to describe all the lovely things, and you may know it was something very much out of the common that could be of such interest to arrest the attention and keep standing beneath the perpendicular rays of a burning sun, three very matter of fact and unromantic seafaring men such as ourselves.
Having pointed to a thousand different marvels and expatiated thereon one to the other, and having a desire to visit the interior, we turned landwards and tramped into the bush where nothing more ferocious is said to abound than wild boar and deer, so on we scrambled leaving behind on cactus spikes and thorny bushes, samples of rich red British blood and portions of white suits, all monuments to our perseverance in search of knowledge. Hot and thirsty, scratched though cheerful, we went along, admiring the strange and tropical trees, and birds and insects, and eventually came to a nice cool shady place where we sat down under some magnificent palms. From here we had a beautiful view of the bay and the land beyond. After having rested and getting the scene before us photographed in our minds as much as possible, we resumed our walk, stopping at frequent intervals to admire some new and strange flower or insect. Finally we came to a little mud hut or shanty with a roof of palm leaves, which turned out to be the home of a Malay, his wife, and large family of rather imp-like youngsters. They were intent on chasing goats, and screaming with laughter, until they caught sight of us, then stood staring at the bescorched and limp Britishers, then made a break for cover behind their ample mother. It was quite clear we were looked upon with the eye of disapproval by each and all, but we did not mind that. We saw some bananas and these we intended getting somehow, so with this end in view advanced and offered the youngsters some coins, and patted their sticky little fat faces, and so won the lasting affection of the fat mamma that we soon left with sufficient fruit for that day.
The next thing that attracted our attention was in passing some fresh pools where the water buffalo stood with only his nose above water, this was not picturesque, but there were other pools with beautiful cool clear water and huge white water lilies growing thereon, and numerous bright plumaged birds, among which was the green and gold and blue kingfisher all busy getting their evening meal. Around such pools grew the graceful bamboo with its delicate pale green foliage making all beneath it cool and shady. Lizards and huge spiders peopled these camps, and tiny little twittering birds, in fact every bush and blade of grass contained some sort of insect life. But time was flying and we had to make tracks back to our ship after having spent an enjoyable day.
We are able to give some extracts from another of Mr. G. Cares interesting letters
written after leaving Sabang (and not Tahang, so called in last months BANNER).
We arrived at Hong Kong April 14th, and yesterday our orders came, Im pleased
to say, for Nagasakie, and our cargo was for the little Japs fleet. Our
cosmopolitan crew have refused to go in the ship, so all are to be arrested
to-morrow, and tried at the police court; were it not for this we should have
left last night. The case was tried, and all over in ten minutes and the crew
got 3 weeks hard labour. I hoped to have seen a little of Hong Kong, but had to
be busy in getting a Chinese crew together, of course we had to have double the
number of men as they are so fearfully slow and ignorant, and one man by the way
was a reformed pirate. Owing to the supposed close proximity of the Russian
fleet, we stole away in the gathering gloom, so to speak, with all lights
covered, and kept as good a look-out as possible under the circumstances, as in
a dense fog.
Well we saw nothing the whole way but a couple of light steamers, going south, and if this is what they call running contraband its about the tamest game I ever went in for. On arrival at Nagasakie we received orders to discharge our cargo at Sasabo, which was only a short run, we had beautiful fine weather, and the sailing along the coast was superb. Sasabo lies at the extreme end of a lovely land locked bay, and the high hilly country is richly cultivated, all up the sides of the hills, the gardens are a succession of terraces, and where there is no cultivation, there are pretty little plantations of fir trees and numerous kinds of shrubs and trees. We had to be guided through the entrance by a government steamer, for the place is well protected from invasion with submarine mines, and it would be a sorry day for a Russian man-of-war if she tried to get in. At another stage of the passage, the whole crew, with the exception of the Captain and myself, were sent below, and a guard placed over them, so that they could not see the formation of the forts, or the entrance itself, as a sort of extra precaution, against spies. I think we English might learn a very good lesson from the Japs. On fine mornings it is really beautiful, the smell of flowers, trees and shrubs, and to hear the twitterings of innumerable birds in the trees close to us. Only the Officers of ships are allowed on shore, and then one must land at a certain jetty, and sign a book, and state who and what you are, and the nature of your business. All letters are subjected to the censor. No cameras, or sketching allowed, and no ship can signal to another without special permission.
We do not hear any news of the war, and the people themselves are apparently in ignorance as to how things are going on. I like the Japanese people very much, and all the more so, because they dont put on any airs as people expected they would do after these phenomenal successes and victories. We have lots of Japanese women here, discharging cargo, some of them rather nice looking, though so very small; they certainly dress very peculiarly. This is indeed a beautiful country, different to any other I ever visited, no sluggish, muddy rivers or miasmal swamps, and evil smelling natives as we are accustomed to see in India. Sasebo is a sort of Eastern Devonport Dockyard, every day one can see torpedo boats, destroyers, and catchers, running trial trips, all built here and manned by the sturdy little Jap sailors, and transports are going and coming all the time.
To be continued.
No loitering allowed here, for as soon as the various boats finish
discharging, off you have to go, whether chartered or not. Since my last letter
we have shifted further into the harbour, and are now lying in the very shadow
of the most beautifully wooded hill in the neighbourhood, were it permitted I
should try my hand at painting the same, but the Japs are very strict, so strict
indeed, that a petty officer is stationed on board to watch our every movement.
I took out an old envelope and started outlining the hill with a pencil, and
this minion of the Japanese Emperor promptly gave me to understand that it was
not allowed, and worked himself into a grim old state, and only when Id
finished and torn the offending sketch into shreds, was his anger appeased. I
mention this just to show you what a patriotic lot of people they are. Nobody
knows here where the Japanese Fleet are, their destination remains a mystery,
and we dont hear any news at all. The newspapers are void of all war news, and
it seems quite out of the world. Still I like Japan and the Japanese, the little
Ive seen of the place and people. We went to a Chinese tea house, and there
dined a la Jap squatting on beautiful downy cushions and eating from
strange dishes with chop sticks. Afterwards we were treated to some music
dispensed by some winsome little Geisha girls, it was a novel experience to us,
and said girls were very pretty and beautifully dressed, but the music - Oh,
dear me! was vile, and nothing but discord, indeed we are still suffering from
the effects therefrom.
The room in which we were took my fancy more than anything else, and I gazed in wonderment at the delicate work of art in the shape of pictures, panels, etc. with which the place was adorned, it was a sight for the gods. The windows were of tissue paper, tightly stretched. I was almost afraid to lean against the wall fearing I should go through, everything was so delicately made, it being more like a large cabinet than a public room, of course we had to take off our boots, and quite right too, for the floor covering was of finely woven straw, and that snow white.
I was very pleased to find that both Japanese men and women are extremely fond of the English, and those of them that could speak our language never tired of assuring us that Japan was Englands little Brother. Well, it is a lovely country, and the people are quite worthy of all the praise we can give them, though they dont know anything about the war, or if they do they dont discuss it, and one cant blame them. On the whole we have enjoyed our stay here, and shall be very pleased to visit it again.