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Chapter XXX

Boat voyage to Silhet — River — Palms — Teelas — Botany — Fish weirs — Forests of Cachar — Sandal-wood, etc. — Porpoises — Alligators — Silchar — Tigers — Rice crops — Cookies — Munniporees — Hockey — Varnish — Dance — Nagas — Excursion to Munnipore frontier — Elephant bogged — Bamboos — Cardiopteris — Climate, etc., of Cachar — Mosquitos — Fall of banks — Silhet — Oaks — Stylidium — Tree-ferns — Chattuc — Megna — Meteorology — Palms — Noacolly — Salt-smuggling — Delta of Ganges and Megna — Westward progress of Megna — Peat — Tide — Waves — Earthquakes — Dangerous navigation — Moonlight scenes — Mud island — Chittagong — Mug tribes — Views — Trees — Churs — Flagstaff hill — Coffee — Pepper — Tea, etc. — Excursions from Chittagong — Dipterocarpi or Gurjun oil trees — Earthquake — Birds — Papaw — Bleeding of stems — Poppy and Sun fields — Seetakoond — Bungalow and hill — Perpetual flame — Falconeria — Cycas — Climate — Leave for Calcutta — Hattiah island — Plants — Sunderbunds — Steamer — Tides — Nipa fruticans — Fishing — Otters — Crocodiles — Phœnix paludosa — Departure from India.


 

We left Churra on the 17th of November, and taking boats at Pundua, crossed the Jheels to the Soormah, which we ascended to Silhet. Thence we continued our voyage 120 miles up the river in canoes, to Silchar, the capital of the district of Cachar: the boats were such as I described at Chattuc, and though it was impossible to sit upright in them, they were paddled with great swiftness. The river at Silhet is 200 yards broad; it is muddy, and flows with a gentle current of two to three miles an hour, between banks six to twelve feet high. As we glided up its stream, villages became rarer, and eminences more frequent in the Jheels. The people are a tall, bold, athletic Mahometan race, who live much on the water, and cultivate rice, sesamum, and


 

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radishes, with betel-pepper in thatched enclosures as in Sikkim: maize and sugar are rarer, bamboos abound, and four palms (Borassus, Areca, cocoa-nut, and Caryota) are planted, but there are no date-palms.

The Teelas (or hillocks) are the haunts of wild boars, tigers, and elephants, but not of the rhinoceros; they are 80 to 200 feet high, of horizontally stratified gravel and sand, slates, and clay conglomerates, with a slag-like honey-combed sandstone; they are covered with oaks, figs, Heretiera, and bamboos, and besides a multitude of common Bengal plants, there are some which, though generally considered mountain or cold country genera, here descend to the level of the sea; such are Kadsura, Rubus, Camellia, and Sabia; Aerides and Saccolabia are the common orchids, and rattan-canes and Pandani render the jungles impenetrable.

A very long sedge (Scleria) grows by the water, and is used for thatching: boatloads of it are collected for the Calcutta market, for which also were destined many immense rafts of bamboo, 100 feet long. The people fish much, using square and triangular drop-nets stretched upon bamboos, and rude basket-work weirs, that retain the fish as the river falls. Near the villages we saw fragments of pottery three feet below the surface of the ground, shewing that the bank, which is higher than the surrounding country, increases from the annual overflow.

About seventy miles up the river, the mountains on the north, which are east of Jyntea, rise 4000 feet high in forest-clad ranges like those of Sikkim. Swamps extend from the river to their base, and penetrate their valleys, which are extremely malarious: these forests are frequented by timber-cutters, who fell jarool (Lagerstrœmia Reginæ), a magnificent tree with red wood, which, though soft, is durable under


 

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water, and therefore in universal use for boat-building. The toon is also cut, with red sandal-wood (Adenanthera pavonina); also Nageesa,* Mesua ferrea, which is highly valued for its weight, strength, and durability: Aquilaria agallocha, the eagle-wood, a tree yielding uggur oil, is also much sought for its fragrant wood, which is carried to Silhet and Azmerigunj, where it is broken up and distilled. Neither teak, sissoo, sal, nor other Dipterocarpi, are found in these forests.

Porpoises, and both the long and the short-nosed alligator, ascend the Soormah for 120 miles, being found beyond Silchar, which place we reached on the 22nd, and were most hospitably received by Colonel Lister, the political agent commanding the Silhet Light Infantry, who was inspecting the Cookie levy, a corps of hill-natives which had lately been enrolled.

The station is a small one, and stands about forty feet above the river, which however rises half that height in the rains. Long low spurs of tertiary rocks stretch from the Tipperah hills for many miles north, through the swampy Jheels to the river; and there are also hills on the opposite or north side, but detached from the Cookie hills, as the lofty blue range twelve miles north of the Soormah is called. All these mountains swarm with tigers, wild buffalos, and boars, which also infest the long grass of the Jheels.

The elevation of the house we occupied at Silchar was

* There is much dispute amongst oriental scholars about the word Nageesa; the Bombay philologists refer it to a species of Garcinia, whilst the pundits on the Calcutta side of India consider it to be Mesua ferrea. Throughout our travels in India, we were struck with the undue reliance placed on native names of plants, and information of all kinds; and the pertinacity with which each linguist adhered to his own crotchet as to the application of terms to natural objects, and their pronunciation. It is a very prevalent, but erroneous, impression, that savage and half-civilised people have an accurate knowledge of objects of natural history, and a uniform nomenclature for them.


 

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116 feet above the sea. The bank it stood on was of clay, with soft rocks of conglomerate, which often assume the appearance of a brown sandy slag.

During the first Birmese war, Colonel Lister was sent with a force up to this remote corner of Bengal, when the country was an uninhabited jungle, so full of tigers that not a day passed without one or more of his grass or wood-cutters being carried off. Now, thousands of acres are cultivated with rice, and during our stay we did not see a tiger. The quantity of land brought into cultivation in this part of Bengal, and indeed throughout the Gangetic delta, has probably been doubled during the last twenty years, and speaks volumes for the state of the peasant under the Indian Company’s sway, as compared with his former condition. The Silchar rice is of admirable quality, and much is imported to Silhet, the Jheels not producing grain enough for the consumption of the people. Though Silchar grows enough for ten times its population, there was actually a famine six weeks before our arrival, the demand from Silhet being so great.

The villages of Cachar are peopled by Mahometans, Munniporees, Nagas, and Cookies; the Cacharies themselves being a poor and peaceful jungle tribe, confined to the mountains north of the Soormah. The Munniporees* are emigrants from the kingdom of that name, which lies beyond the British possessions, and borders on Assam and

* The Munnipore valley has never been explored by any naturalist, its mountains are said to be pine-clad, and to rise 8000 feet above the level of the sea. The Rajah is much harassed by the Birmese, and is a dependant of the British, who are in the very frequent dilemma of supporting on the throne a sovereign opposed by a strong faction of his countrymen, and who has very dubious claims to his position. During our stay at Silchar, the supposed rightful Rajah was prevailing over the usurper; a battle had been fought on the hills on the frontier, and two bodies floated past our bungalow, pierced with arrows.


 

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Birmah. Low ranges of forest-clad mountains at the head of the Soormah, separate it from Silchar, with which it is coterminous; the two chief towns being seven marches apart. To the south-east of Silchar are interminable jungles, peopled by the Cookies, a wild Indo-Chinese tribe, who live in a state of constant warfare, and possess the whole hill-country from this, southward to beyond Chittagong. Two years ago they invaded and ravaged Cachar, carrying many of the inhabitants into slavery, and so frightening the people, that land previously worth six rupees a biggah, is now reduced to one and a half. Colonel Lister was sent with a strong party to rescue the captives, and marched for many days through their country without disturbing man or beast; penetrating deep forests of gigantic trees and tall bamboos, never seeing the sun above, or aught to the right and left, save an occasional clearance and a deserted village. The incursion, however, had its effects, and the better inclined near the frontier have since come forward, and been enrolled as the Cookie levy.

The Munnipore emigrants are industrious settlers for a time, but never remain long in one place: their religion is Hindoo, and they keep up a considerable trade with their own country, whence they import a large breed of buffalos, ponies, silks, and cotton cloths dyed with arnotto (Bixa), and universally used for turbans. They use bamboo blowing-tubes and arrows for shooting birds, make excellent shields of rhinoceros hide (imported from Assam), and play at hockey on horseback like the Western Tibetans. A fine black varnish from the fruit of Holigarna longifolia, is imported from Munnipore, as is another made from Sesuvium Anacardium (marking-nut), and a remarkable black pigment resembling that from Melanorhœa usitatissima,


 

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which is white when fresh, and requires to be kept under water.*

One fine moonlight night we went to see a Munnipore dance. A large circular area was thatched with plantain leaves, growing on their trunks, which were stuck in the ground; and round the enclosure was a border neatly cut from the white leaf-sheaths of the same tree. A double enclosure of bamboo, similarly ornamented, left an inner circle for the performers, and an outer for the spectators: the whole was lighted with oil lamps and Chinese paper lanterns. The musicians sat on one side, with cymbals, tomtoms, and flutes, and sang choruses.

The performances began by a copper-coloured Cupid entering and calling the virgins with a flute; these appeared from a green-room, to the number of thirty or forty, of all ages and sizes. Each had her hair dressed in a topknot, and her head covered with a veil; a scarlet petticoat loaded with tinsel concealed her naked feet, and over this was a short red kirtle, and an enormous white shawl was swathed round the body from the armpits to the waist. A broad belt passed over the right shoulder and under the left arm, to which hung gold and silver chains, corals, etc., with tinsel and small mirrors sewed on everywhere: the arms and hands were bare, and decorated with bangles and rings.

Many of the women were extremely tall, great stature being common amongst the Munniporees. They commenced with a prostration to Cupid, around whom they danced very slowly, with the arms stretched out, and the

* This turns of a beautiful black colour when applied to a surface, owing, according to Sir D. Brewster, to the fresh varnish consisting of a congeries of minute organised particles, which disperse the rays of light in all directions; the organic structure is destroyed when the varnish dries and the rays of light are consequently transmitted.


 

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hands in motion; at each step the free foot was swung backwards and forwards. Cupid then chose a partner, and standing in the middle went through the same motions, a compliment the women acknowledged by curtseying and whirling round, making a sort of cheese with their petticoats, which, however, were too heavy to inflate properly.

The Nagas are another people found on this frontier, chiefly on the hills to the north: they are a wild, copper-coloured, uncouth jungle tribe, who have proved troublesome on the Assam frontier. Their features are more Tartar than those of the Munniporees, especially amongst the old men. They bury their dead under the threshold of their cottages. The men are all but naked, and stick plumes of hornbills’ feathers in their hair, which is bound with strips of bamboo: tufts of small feathers are passed through their ears, and worn as shoulder lappets. A short blue cotton cloth, with a fringe of tinsel and tufts of goat’s hair dyed red, is passed over the loins in front only: they also wear brass armlets, and necklaces of cowries, coral, amber, ivory, and boar’s teeth. The women draw a fringed blue cloth tightly across the breast, and wear a checked or striped petticoat. They are less ornamented than the men, and are pleasing looking; their hair is straight, and cut short over the eyebrows.

The Naga dances are very different from those of the Munniporees; being quick, and performed in excellent time to harmonious music. The figures are regular, like quadrilles and country-dances: the men hold their knives erect during the performance, the women extend their arms only when turning partners, and then their hands are not given, but the palms are held opposite. The step is a sort of polka and balancez, very graceful and lively. A bar of music


 

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is always played first, and at the end the spectators applaud with two short shouts. Their ear for music, and the nature of their dance, are as Tibetan as their countenances, and different from those of the Indo-Chinese tribes of the frontier.

We had the pleasure of meeting Lieutenant Raban at Silchar, and of making several excursions in the neighbourhood with him; for which Colonel Lister here, as at Churra, afforded us every facility of elephants and men. Had we had time, it was our intention to have visited Munnipore, but we were anxious to proceed to Chittagong. I however made a three days’ excursion to the frontier, about thirty miles distant, proceeding along the north bank of the Soormah. On the way my elephant got bogged in crossing a deep muddy stream: this is sometimes an alarming position, as should the animal become terrified, he will seize his rider, or pad, or any other object (except his driver), to place under his knees to prevent his sinking. In this instance the driver in great alarm ordered me off, and I had to flounder out through the black mud. The elephant remained fast all night, and was released next morning by men with ropes.

The country continued a grassy level, with marshes and rice cultivation, to the first range of hills, beyond which the river is unnavigable; there also a forest commences, of oaks, figs, and the common trees of east Bengal. The road hence was a good one, cut by Sepoys across the dividing ranges, the first of which is not 500 feet high. On the ascent bamboos abound, of the kind called Tuldah or Dulloah, which has long very thin-walled joints; it attains no great size, but is remarkably gregarious. On the east side of the range, the road runs through soft shales and beds of clay, and conglomerates,


 

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descending to a broad valley covered with gigantic scattered timber-trees of jarool, acacia, Diospyros, Urticeæ, and Bauhiniæ, rearing their enormous trunks above the bamboo jungle: immense rattan-canes wound through the forest, and in the gullies were groves of two kinds of tree-fern, two of Areca, Wallichia palm, screw-pine, and Dracæna. Wild rice grew abundantly in the marshes, with tall grasses; and Cardiopteris* covered the trees for upwards of sixty feet, like hops, with a mass of pale-green foliage, and dry white glistening seed-vessels. This forest differed from those of the Silhet and Khasia mountains, especially in the abundance of bamboo jungle, which is, I believe, the prevalent feature of the low hills in Birmah, Ava, and Munnipore; also in the gigantic size of the rattans, 1arger palms, and different forest trees, and in the scanty undergrowth of herbs and bushes. I only saw, however, the skirts of the forest; the mountains further east, which I am told rise several thousand feet in limestone cliffs, are doubtless richer in herbaceous plants.

The climate of Cachar partakes of that of the Jheels in its damp equable character: during our stay the weather was fine, and dense fogs formed in the morning: the mean maximum was 80°, minimum 58·4°.†

The annual rain-fall in 1850 was 111·60 inches, according to a register kindly given me by Captain Verner. There are few mosquitos, which is one of the most curious facts in the geographical distribution of these capricious bloodsuckers; for the locality is surrounded by swamps, and

* A remarkable plant of unknown affinity; see Brown and Bennett, “Flora Java:” it is found in the Assam valley and Chittagong.
† The temperature does not rise above 90° in summer, nor sink below 45° or 50° in January: forty-seven comparative observations with Calcutta showed the mean temperature to be 1·8° lower at Silchar, and the air damper, the saturation point being, at Calcutta 0·3791, at Silchar 0·4379.


 

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they swarm at Silhet, and on the river lower down. Both on the passage up and down, we were tormented in our canoes by them for eighty or ninety miles above Silhet, and thence onwards to Cachar we were free.

On the 30th of November, we were preparing for our return to Silhet, and our canoes were loading, when we were surprised by a loud rushing noise, and saw a high wave coming down the river, swamping every boat that remained on its banks, whilst most of those that pushed out into the stream, escaped with a violent rocking. It was caused by a slip of the bank three quarters of a mile up the stream, of no great size, but which propagated a high wave. This appeared to move on at about the rate of a mile in three or four minutes, giving plenty of time for our boatmen to push out from the land on hearing the shouts of those first overtaken by the calamity; but they were too timid, and consequently one of our canoes, full of papers, instruments, and clothes, was swamped. Happily our dried collections were not embarked, and the hot sun repaired much of the damage.

We left in the evening of the 2nd of December, and proceeded to Silhet, where we were kindly received by Mr. Stainforth, the district judge. Silhet, the capital of the district of the same name, is a large Mahometan town, occupying a slightly raised part of the Jheels, where many of the Teelas seem joined together by beds of gravel and sand. In the rains it, is surrounded by water, and all communication with other parts is by boats: in winter, Jynteapore and Pundua may be reached by land, crossing creeks innumerable on the way. Mr. Stainforth’s house, like those of most of the other Europeans, occupies the top of one of the Teelas, 150 feet high, and is surrounded


 

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by fine spreading oaks,* Garcinia, and Diospyros trees. The rock of which the hill is composed, is a slag-like ochreous sandstone, covered in most places with a shrubbery of rose-flowered Melastoma, and some peculiar plants.†

Broad flat valleys divide the hills, and are beautifully clothed with a bright green jungle of small palms, and many kinds of ferns. In sandy places, blue-flowered Burmannia, Hypoxis, and other pretty tropical annuals, expand their blossoms, with an inconspicuous Stylidium, a plant belonging to a small natural family, whose limits are so confined to New Holland, that this is almost the only kind that does not grow in that continent. Where the ground is swampy, dwarf Pandanus abounds, with the gigantic nettle, Urtica crenulata (“Mealum-ma” of Sikkim, see p. 189).

The most interesting botanical ramble about Silhet is to the tree-fern groves on the path to Jynteapore, following the bottoms of shallow valleys between the Teelas, and along clear streams, up whose beds we waded for some miles, under an arching canopy of tropical shrubs, trees, and climbers, tall grasses, screw-pines, and Aroideæ. In the narrower parts of the valleys the tree-ferns are numerous on the slopes, rearing their slender brown trunks forty feet

* It is not generally known that oaks are often very tropical plants; not only abounding at low elevations in the mountains, but descending in abundance to the level of the sea. Though unknown in Ceylon, the Peninsula of India, tropical Africa, or South America, they abound in the hot valleys of the Eastern Himalaya, East Bengal, Malay Peninsula, and Indian islands; where perhaps more species grow than in any other part of the world. Such facts as this disturb our preconceived notions of the geographical distribution of the most familiar tribes of plants, and throw great doubt on the conclusions which fossil plants are supposed to indicate.
Gelonium, Adelia, Moacurra, Linostoma, Justicia, Trophis, Connarus, Ixora, Congea, Dalhousiea, Grewia, Myrsine, Buttneria; and on the shady exposures a Calamus, Briedelia, and various ferns.


 

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high, with feathery crowns of foliage, through which the sun-beams trembled on the broad shining foliage of the tropical herbage below.

Silhet, though hot and damp, is remarkably healthy, and does not differ materially in temperature from Silchar, though it is more equable and humid.* It derives some interest from having been first brought into notice by the enterprise of one of the Lindsays of Balcarres, at a time when the pioneers of commerce in India encountered great hardships and much personal danger. Mr. Lindsay, a writer in the service of the East India Company, established a factory at Silhet, and commenced the lime trade with Calcutta,† reaping an enormous fortune himself, and laying the foundation of that prosperity amongst the people which has been much advanced by the exertions of the Inglis family, and has steadily progressed under the protecting rule of the Indian government.

From Silhet we took large boats to navigate the Burrampooter and Megna, to their embouchure in the Bay of Bengal at Noacolly, a distance of 250 miles, whence we were to proceed across the head of the bay to Chittagong, about 100 miles farther. We left on the 7th of December, and arrived at Chattuc on the 9th, where we met our Khasia collectors with large loads of plants, and paid them off. The river was now low, and presented a busy scene, from the numerous trading boats being confined to its fewer and deeper channels. Long grasses and sedges

* During our stay of five days the mean maximum temperature was 74°, minimum 64·8°: that of thirty-two observations compared with Calcutta show that Silhet is only 1·7° cooler, though Mr. Stainforth’s house is upwards of 2° further north, and 160 feet more elevated. A thermometer sunk two feet seven inches, stood at 73·5°. The relative saturation-points were, Calcutta ·633, Silhet ·821.
† For an account of the early settlement of Silhet, see “Lives of the Lindsays,” by Lord Lindsay.


 

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(Arundo, Saccharum and Scleria), were cut, and stacked along the water’s edge, in huge brown piles, for export and thatching.

On the 13th December, we entered the broad stream of the Megna. Rice is cultivated along the mud flats left by the annual floods, and the banks are lower and less defined than in the Soormah, and support no long grasses or bushes. Enormous islets of living water-grasses (Oplismenus stagninus) and other plants, floated past, and birds became more numerous, especially martins and egrets. The sun was hot, but the weather otherwise cool and pleasant: the mean temperature was nearly that of Calcutta, 69·7°, but the atmosphere was more humid.*

On the 14th we passed the Dacca river; below which the Megna is several miles wide, and there is an appearance of tide, from masses of purple Salvinia (a floating plant, allied to ferns), being thrown up on the beach like sea-weed. Still lower down, the vegetation of the Sunderbunds commences; there is a narrow beach, and behind it a mud bank several feet high, supporting a luxuriant green jungle of palms (Borassus and Phœnix), immense fig-trees, covered with Calami, and tall betel-palms, clothed with the most elegant drapery of Arostichum scandens, a climbing fern with pendulous fronds.

Towards the embouchure, the banks rise ten feet high, the river expands into a muddy sea, and a long swell rolls

* The river-water was greenish, and a little cooler (73·8°) than that of the Soormah (74·3°), which was brown and muddy. The barometer on the Soormah stood 0·028 inch higher than that of Calcutta (on the mean of thirty-eight observations), whereas on the Megna the pressure was 0·010 higher. As Calcutta is eighteen feet above the level of the Bay of Bengal, this shows that the Megna (which has no perceptible current) is at the level of the sea, and that either the Soormah is upwards of thirty feet above that level, or that the atmospheric pressure there, and at this season, is less than at Calcutta, which, as I have hinted at p. 259, is probably the case.


 

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in, to the disquiet of our fresh-water boatmen. Low islands of sand and mud stretch along the horizon: which, together with the ships, distorted by extraordinary refraction, flicker as if seen through smoke. Mud is the all prevalent feature; and though the water is not salt, we do not observe in these broad deltas that amount of animal life (birds, fish, alligators, and porpoises), that teems in the narrow creeks of the western Sunderbunds.

We landed in a canal-like creek at Tuktacolly,* on the 17th, and walked to Noacolly, over a flat of hard mud or dried silt, covered with turf of Cynodon Dactylon. We were hospitably received by Dr. Baker, a gentleman who has resided here for twenty-three years; and who communicated to us much interesting information respecting the features of the Gangetic delta.

Noacolly is a station for collecting the revenue and preventing the manufacture of salt, which, with opium, are the only monopolies now in the hands of the East India Company. The salt itself is imported from Arracan, Ceylon, and even Europe, and is stored in great wooden buildings here and elsewhere. The ground being impregnated with salt, the illicit manufacture by evaporation is not easily checked; but whereas the average number of cases brought to justice used to be twenty and thirty in a week, they are now reduced to two or three. It is remarkable, that though the soil yields such an abundance of this mineral, the water of the Megna at Noacolly is only brackish, and it is therefore to repeated inundations and surface evaporations that the salt is due. Fresh water is found at a very few feet depth everywhere, but it is not good.

When it is considered how comparatively narrow the sea-board of the delta is, the amount of difference in the

* “Colly” signifies a muddy creek, such as intersect the delta.


 

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physical features of the several parts, will appear most extraordinary. I have stated that the difference between the northern and southern halves of the delta is so great, that, were all depressed and their contents fossilised, the geologist who examined each by itself, would hardly recognise the two parts as belonging to one epoch; and the difference between the east and west halves of the lower delta is equally remarkable.

The total breadth of the delta is 260 miles, from Chittagong to the mouth of the Hoogly, divided longitudinally by the Megna: all to the west of that river presents a luxuriant vegetation, while to the east is a bare muddy expanse, with no trees or shrubs but what are planted On the west coast the tides rise twelve or thirteen feet, on the east, from forty to eighty. On the west, the water is salt enough for mangroves to grow for fifty miles up the Hoogly; on the east, the sea coast is too fresh for that plant for ten miles south of Chittagong. On the west, fifty inches is the Cuttack fall of rain; on the east, 90 to 120 at Noacolly and Chittagong, and 200 at Arracan. The east coast is annually visited by earthquakes, which are rare on the west; and lastly, the majority of the great trees and shrubs carried down from the Cuttack and Orissa forests, and deposited on the west coast of the delta, are not only different in species, but in natural order, from those that the Fenny and Chittagong rivers bring down from the jungles.*

We were glad to find at Noacolly that our observations

* The Cuttack forests are composed of teak, Sal, Sissoo, ebony, Pentaptera, Buchanania, and other trees of a dry soil, and that require a dry season alternating with a wet one. These are unknown in the Chittagong forests, which have Jarool (Lagerstrœmia) Mesua, Dipterocarpi, nutmegs, oaks of several kinds, and many other trees not known in the Cuttack forests, and all typical of a perennially humid atmosphere.


 

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on the progression westwards of the Burrampooter (see p. 253) were confirmed by the fact that the Megna also is gradually moving in that direction, leaving much dry land on the Noacolly side, and forming islands opposite that coast; whilst it encroaches on the Sunderbunds, and is cutting away the islands in that direction. This advance of the fresh waters amongst the Sunderbunds is destructive to the vegetation of the latter, which requires salt; and if the Megna continues its slow course westwards, the obliteration of thousands of square miles of a very peculiar flora, and the extinction of many species of plants and animals that exist nowhere else, may ensue. In ordinary cases these plants, etc., would take up their abode on the east coast, as they were driven from the west; but such might not be the case in this delta; for the sweeping tides of the east coast prevent any such vegetation establishing itself there, and the mud which the eastern rivers carry down, becomes a caking dry soil, unsuited to the germination of seeds.

On our arrival at Calcutta in the following February, Dr. Falconer showed us specimens of very modern peat, dug out of the banks of the Hoogly a few feet below the surface of the soil, in which were seeds of the Euryale ferox:* this plant is not now known to be found nearer than Dacca (sixty miles north-east, see p. 255), and indicates a very different state of the surface at Calcutta at the date of its deposition than that which exists now, and also shows that the estuary was then much fresher.

The main land of Noacolly is gradually extending seawards, and has advanced four miles within twenty-

* This peat Dr. Falconer also found to contain bones of birds and fish, seeds of Cucumis Madraspatana and another Cucurbitaceous plant, leaves of Saccharum Sara and Ficus cordifolia. Specks of some glistening substance were scattered through the mass, apparently incipient carbonisation of the peat.


 

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three years: this seems sufficiently accounted for by the recession of the Megna. The elevation of the surface of the land is caused by the overwhelming tides and south-west hurricanes in May and October: these extend thirty miles north and south of Chittagong, and carry the waters of the Megna and Fenny back over the land, in a series of tremendous waves, that cover islands of many hundred acres, and roll three miles on to the main land. On these occasions, the average earthy deposit of silt, separated by micaceous sand, is an eighth of an inch for every tide; but in October, 1848, these tides covered Sundeep island, deposited six inches on its level surface, and filled ditches several feet deep. These deposits become baked by a tropical sun, and resist to a considerable degree denudation by rain. Whether any further rise is caused by elevation from below is doubtful; there is no direct evidence of it, though slight earthquakes annually occur; and even when they have not been felt, the water of tanks has been seen to oscillate for three-quarters of an hour without intermission, from no discernible cause.*

Noacolly is considered a healthy spot, which is not the case with the Sunderbund stations west of the Megna. The climate is uniformly hot, but the thermometer never rises above 90°, nor sinks below 45°; at this temperature hoar-frost will form on straw, and ice on water placed in porous pans, indicating a powerful radiation.†

* The natives are familiar with this phenomenon, of which Dr. Baker remembers two instances, one in the cold season of 1834–5, the other in that of 1830–1. The earthquakes do not affect any particular month, nor are they accompanied by any meteorological phenomena.
† The winds are north-west and north in the cold season (from November to March), drawing round to west in the afternoons. North-west winds and heavy hailstorms are frequent from March to May, when violent gales set in from the southward. The rains commence in June, with easterly and southerly winds, and the temperature from 82° to 84°; May and October are the hottest months. The rains cease in the end of October (on the 8th of November in 1849, and 12th of November in 1850, the latest epoch ever remembered): there is no land or sea breeze along any part of the coast. During our stay we found the mean temperature for twelve observations to be precisely that of Calcutta, but the humidity was more, and the pressure 0·040 1ower.


 

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We left Noacolly on the 19th for Chittagong; the state of the tide obliging us to go on board in the night. The distance is only 100 miles, but the passage is considered dangerous at this time (during the spring-tides) and we were therefore provided with a large vessel and an experienced crew. The great object in this navigation is to keep afloat and to make progress towards the top of the tide and during its flood, and to ground during the ebb in creeks where the bore (tidal wave) is not violent; for where the channels are broad and open, the height and force of this wave rolls the largest coasting craft over and swamps them.

Our boatmen pushed out at 3 in the morning, and brought up at 5, in a narrow muddy creek on the island of Sidhee. The waters retired along channels scooped several fathoms deep in black mud, leaving our vessel aground six or seven feet below the top of the bank, and soon afterwards there was no water to be seen; as far as the eye could reach, all was a glistening oozy mud, except the bleak level surfaces of the islands, on which neither shrub nor tree grew. Soon after 2 p.m. a white line was seen on the low black horizon, which was the tide-wave, advancing at the rate of five miles an hour, with a hollow roar; it bore back the mud that was gradually slipping along the gentle slope, and we were afloat an hour after: at night we grounded again, opposite the mouth of the Fenny.

By moonlight the scene was oppressively solemn: on all sides the gurgling waters kept up a peculiar sound that filled the air with sullen murmurs; the moonbeams slept


 

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upon the slimy surface of the mud, and made the dismal landscape more ghastly still. Silence followed the ebb, broken occasionally by the wild whistle of a bird like the curlew, of which a few wheeled through the air: till the harsh roar of the bore was heard, to which the sailors seemed to waken by instinct. The waters then closed in on every side, and the far end of the reflected moonbeam was broken into flashing light, that approached and soon danced beside the boat.

We much regretted not being able to obtain any more accurate data than I have given, as to the height of the tide at the mouth of the Fenny; but where the ebb sometimes retires twenty miles from high-water mark, it is obviously impossible to plant any tide-gauge.

On the 21st we were ashore at daylight on the Chittagong coast far north of the station, and were greeted by the sight of hills on the horizon: we were lying fully twenty feet below high-water mark, and the tide was out for several miles to the westward. The bank was covered with flocks of white geese feeding on short grass, upon what appeared to be detached islets on the surface of the mud. These islets, which are often an acre in extent, are composed of stratified mud; they have perpendicular sides several feet high, and convex surfaces, owing to the tide washing away the earth from under their sides; and they were further slipping seawards, along the gently sloping mud-beach. Few or no shells or seaweed were to be seen, nor is it possible to imagine a more lifeless sea than these muddy coasts present.

We were three days and nights on this short voyage, without losing sight of mud or land. I observed the barometer whenever the boat was on the shore, and found the mean of six readings (all reduced to the same level) to be


 

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identical with that at Calcutta. These being all taken at elevations lower than that of the Calcutta observatory, show either a diminished atmospheric pressure, or that the mean level of high-water is not the same on the east and west coasts of the Bay of Bengal: this is quite possible, considering the widely different direction of the tides and currents on each, and that the waters may be banked up, as it were, in the narrow channels of the western Sunderbunds. The temperature of the air was the same as at Calcutta, but the atmosphere was damper. The water was always a degree warmer than the air.

We arrived at Chittagong on the 23rd of December, and became the guests of Mr. Sconce, Judge of the district, and of Mr. Lautour; to both of whom we were greatly indebted for their hospitality and generous assistance in every way.

Chittagong is a large town of Mahometans and Mugs, a Birmese tribe who inhabit many parts of the Malay peninsula, and the coast to the northward of it. The town stands on the north shore of an extensive delta, formed by rivers from the lofty mountains separating this district from Birma. These mountains are fine objects on the horizon, rising 4000 to 8000 feet; they are forest-clad, and inhabited by turbulent races, who are coterminous with the Cookies of the Cachar and Tipperah forests; if indeed they be not the same people. The mountains abound with the splendid timber-trees of the Cachar forests, but like these are said to want teak, Sal, and Sissoo; they have, besides many others,, magnificent Gurjun trees (Dipterocarpi), the monarchs of the forests of these coasts.

The natives of Chittagong are excellent shipbuilders and active traders, and export much rice and timber to Madras and Calcutta. The town is large and beautifully situated,


 

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interspersed with trees and tanks; the hills resemble those of Silhet, and are covered with a similar vegetation: on these the European houses are built. The climate is very healthy, which is not remarkable, considering how closely it approximates in character to that of Silhet and other places in Eastern Bengal, but very extraordinary, if it be compared with Arracan, only 200 miles further south, which is extremely unhealthy. The prominent difference between the physical features of Chittagong and Arracan, is the presence of mangrove swamps at the latter place, for which the water is too fresh at the former.

The hills about the station are not more than 150 or 200 feet high, and are formed of stratified gravel, sand, and clay, that often becomes nodular, and is interstratified with slag-like iron clay. Fossil wood is found; and some of the old buildings about Chittagong contain nummulitic limestone, probably imported from Silhet or the peninsula of India, with which countries there is no such trade now. The views are beautiful, of the blue mountains forty to fifty miles distant, and the many-armed river, covered with sails, winding amongst groves of cocoa-nuts, Areca palm, and yellow rice fields. Good European houses surmount all the eminences, surrounded by trees of Acacia and Cæsalpinia. In the hollows are native huts amidst vegetation of every hue, glossy green Garciniæ and figs, broad plantains, feathery Cassia and Acacias, dark Mesua, red-purple Terminalia, leafless scarlet-flowered Bombax, and grey Casuarina.* Seaward the tide leaves immense flats, called churs, which stretch for many miles on either side the offing.

* This, which is almost exclusively an Australian genus, is not indigenous at Chittagong: to it belongs an extra-Australian species common in the Malay islands, and found wild as far north as Arracan.


 

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We accompanied Mr. Sconce to a bungalow which he has built at the telegraph station at the south head of the harbour: its situation, on a hill 100 feet above the sea, is exposed, and at this season the sea-breeze was invigorating, and even cold, as it blew through the mat-walls of the bungalow.* To the south, undulating dunes stretch along the coast, covered with low bushes, of which a red-flowered Melastoma is the most prevalent,† and is considered a species of Rhododendron by many of the residents! The flats along the beach are several miles broad, intersected with tidal creeks, and covered with short grass, while below high-water mark all is mud, coated with green Conferva. There are no leafy seaweeds or mangroves, nor any seaside shrub but Dilivaria ilicifolia. Animal life is extremely rare; and a Cardium-like shell and small crab are found sparingly.

Coffee has been cultivated at Chittagong with great success; it is said to have been introduced by Sir W. Jones, and Mr. Sconce has a small plantation, from which his table is well supplied. Both Assam and Chinese teas flourish, but Chinamen are wanted to cure the leaves. Black pepper succeeds admirably, as do cinnamon, arrowroot, and ginger.

Early in January we accompanied Mr. Lautour on an excursion to the north, following a valley separated from the coast by a range of wooded hills, 1000 feet high. For several marches the bottom of this valley was broad, flat, and full of villages. At Sidhee, about twenty-five miles

* The mean temperature of the two days (29th and 30th) we spent at this bungalow was 66·5°, that of Calcutta being 67·6°; the air was damp, and the barometer 0·144 lower at the flagstaff hill, but it fell and rose with the Calcutta instrument.
Melastoma, jasmine, Calamus, Ægle Marmelos, Adelia, Memecylon, Ixora, Limostoma, Congea, climbing Cœsalpinia, and many other plants; and along their bases large trees of Amoora, Gaurea, figs, Mesua, and Micromelon.


 

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from Chittagong, it contracts, and spurs from the hills on either flank project into the middle: they are 200 to 300 feet high, formed of red clay, and covered with brushwood. At Kajee-ke-hath, the most northern point we reached, we were quite amongst these hills, and in an extremely picturesque country, intersected by long winding flat valleys, that join one another: some are full of copsewood, while others present the most beautiful park-like scenery, and a third class expand into grassy marshes or lake-beds, with wooded islets rising out of them. The hillsides are clothed with low jungle, above which tower magnificent Gurjun trees (wood-oil). The whole contour of this country is that of a low bay, whose coast is raised above the sea, and over which a high tide once swept for ages.

The elevation of Hazari-ke-hath is not 100 feet above the level of the sea. It is about ten miles west of the mouth of the Fenny, from which it is separated by hills 1000 feet high; its river falls into that at Chittagong, thirty miles south. Large myrtaceous trees (Eugenia) are common, and show a tendency to the Malayan flora, which is further demonstrated by the abundance of Gurjun (Dipterocarpus turbinatus). This is the most superb tree we met with in the Indian forests: we saw several species, but this is the only common one here; it is conspicuous for its gigantic size, and for the straightness and graceful form of its tall unbranched pale grey trunk, and small symmetrical crown: many individuals were upwards of 200 feet high, and fifteen in girth. Its leaves are broad, glossy, and beautiful; the flowers (then falling) are not conspicuous; the wood is hard, close-grained, and durable, and a fragrant oil exudes from the trunk, which is extremely valuable as pitch and varnish, etc., besides being a good medicine. The natives procure it by cutting transverse holes in the trunk, pointing


 

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downwards, and lighting fires in them, which causes the oil to flow.*


 
Gurjun tree

On the 8th of January we experienced a sharp earthquake, preceded by a dull thumping sound; it lasted about twenty seconds, and seemed to come up from the southward; the water of a tank by which we were seated was

* The other trees of these dry forests are many oaks, Henslowia, Gordonia, Engelhardtia, Duabanga, Adelia, Byttneria, Bradleia, and large trees of Pongamia, whose seeds yield a useful oil.


 

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smartly agitated. The same shock was felt at Mymensing and at Dacca, 110 miles north-west of this.*

We crossed the dividing ridge of the littoral range on the 9th, and descended to Seetakoond bungalow, on the high road from Chittagong to Comilla. The forests at the foot of the range were very extensive, and swarmed with large red ants that proved very irritating: they build immense pendulous nests of dead and living leaves at the ends of the branches of trees, and mat them with a white web. Tigers, leopards, wild dogs, and boars, are numerous; as are snipes, pheasants, peacocks, and jungle-fowl, the latter waking the morn with their shrill crows; and in strange association with them, common English woodcock, is occasionally found.

The trees are of little value, except the Gurjun, and “Kistooma,” a species of Bradleia, which was stacked extensively, being used for building purposes. The papaw†* is abundantly cultivated, and its great gourd-like fruit is eaten (called “Papita” or “Chinaman”); the flavour is that of a bad melon, and a white juice exudes from the rind. The Hodgsonia heteroclita (Trichosanthes of Roxburgh), a magnificent Cucurbitaceous climber, grows in these forests; it is the same species as the Sikkim one (see p. 7). The long stem bleeds copiously when cut, and like almost all woody climbers, is full of large vessels; the juice does not, however, exude from these great tubes, which hold air, but from the close woody fibres. A climbing Apocyneous plant grows in these forests, the

* Earthquakes are extremely common, and sometimes violent, at Chittagong, and doubtless belong to the volcanic forces of the Malayan peninsula.
† The Papaw tree is said to have the curious property of rendering tough meat tender, when hung under its leaves, or touched with the juice; this hastening the process of decay. With this fact, well-known in the West Indies, I never found a person in the East acquainted.


 

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milk of which flows in a continuous stream, resembling caoutchouc (it is probably the Urceola elastica, which yields Indian-rubber).

The subject of bleeding is involved in great obscurity, and the systematic examination of the motions in the juices of tropical climbers by resident observers, offers a fertile field to the naturalist. I have often remarked that if a climbing stem, in which the circulation is vigorous, be cut across, it bleeds freely from both ends, and most copiously from the lower, if it be turned downwards; but that if a truncheon be severed, there will be no flow from either of its extremities. This is the case with all the Indian watery-juiced climbers, at whatever season they may be cut. When, however, the circulation in the plant is feeble, neither end of a simple cut will bleed much, but if a truncheon be taken from it, both the extremities will.

The ascent of the hills, which are densely wooded, was along spurs, and over knolls of clay; the rocks were sandy and slaty (dip north-east 60°. The road was good, but always through bamboo jungle, and it wound amongst the low spurs, so that there was no defined crest or top of the pass, which is about 800 feet high. There were no tall palms, tree-ferns, or plantains, no Hymenophylla or Lycopodia, and altogether the forest was smaller and poorer in plants than we had expected. The only palms (except a few rattans) were two kinds of Wallichia.

From the summit we obtained a very extensive and singular view. At our feet was a broad, low, grassy, alluvial plain, intersected by creeks, bounding a black expanse of mud which (the tide being out) appeared to stretch almost continuously to Sundeep Island, thirty miles distant; while beyond, the blue hills of Tipperah rose on


 

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the north-west horizon. The rocks yielded a dry poor soil, on which grew dwarf Phœnix and cycas-palm (Cycas circinalis or pectinata).

Descending, we rode several miles along an excellent road, that runs to Tipperah, and stopped at the bungalow of Seetakoond, twenty-five miles north of Chittagong. The west flank of the range which we had crossed is much steeper than the east, often precipitous, and presents the appearance of a sea-worn cliff towards the Bay of Bengal. Near Seetakoond (which is on the plain) a hill on the range, bearing the same name, rises 1,136 feet high, and being damper and more luxuriantly wooded, we were anxious to explore it, and therefore spent some days at the bungalow. Fields of poppy and sun (Crotalaria juncea), formed most beautiful crops; the latter grows from four to six feet high, and bears masses of laburnum-like flowers, while the poppy fields resembled a carpet of dark-green velvet, sprinkled with white stars; or, as I have elsewhere remarked, a green lake studded with water-lilies.


 
Seetakund Hill

The road to the top of Seetakoond leads along a most beautiful valley, and then winds up a cliff that is in many places almost precipitous, the ascent being partly by steps cut in the rock, of which there are 560. The mountain is very sacred, and there is a large Brahmin temple on its flank; and near the base a perpetual flame bursts out of the rock. This we were anxious to examine, and were extremely disappointed to find it a small vertical hole in a slaty rock, with a lateral one below for a draught; and that it is daily supplied by pious pilgrims and Brahmins with such enormous quantities of ghee (liquid butter), that it is to all intents and purposes an artificial lamp; no trace of natural phenomena being discoverable.

On the dry but wooded west face of the mountain,


 

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grows Falconeria, a curious Euphorbiaceous tree, with an acrid milky juice that affects the eyes when the wood is cut. Beautiful Cycas palms are also common, with Terminalia, Bignonia, Sterculia, dwarf Phœnix palm, and Gurjun trees. The east slope of the mountain is damper, and much more densely wooded; we there found two wild species of nutmeg trees, whose wood is full of a brown acrid oil, seven palms, tree-ferns, and many other kinds of ferns, several kinds of oak, Dracæna, and figs. The top is 1,136 feet above the sea, and commands an extensive view to all points of the compass; but the forests, in which the ashy bark of the Gurjun trees is conspicuous, and the beautiful valley on the west, are the only attractive features.

The weather on the east side of the range differs at this season remarkably from that on the west, where the vicinity of the sea keeps the atmosphere more humid and warm, and at the same time prevents the formation of the dense fogs that hang over the valleys to the eastward every morning at sunrise. We found the mean temperature at the bungalow, from January 9th till the 13th, to be 70·2°.

We embarked again at Chittagong on the 16th of January, at 10 p.m., for Calcutta, in a very large vessel, rowed by twelve men: we made wretchedly slow progress, for the reasons mentioned above (p. 343), being for four days within sight of Chittagong! On the 20th we only reached Sidhee, and thence made a stretch to Hattiah, an island which may be said to be moving bodily to the westward, the Megna annually cutting many acres from the east side; and the tide-wave depositing mud on the west. The surface is flat, and raised four feet above mean high-water level; the tide rises about 14 feet up the bank, and then retires for miles; the total rise and fall is,


 

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however, much less here than in the Fenny, higher up the gulf. The turf is composed of Cynodon and a Fimbristylis; and the earth being impregnated with salt, supports different kinds of Chenopodium. Two kinds of tamarisk, and a thorny Cassia and Exœcaria, are the only shrubs on the eastern islands; on the central ones a few dwarf mangroves appear, with the holly-leaved Dilivaria, dwarf screw-pine (Pandanus), a shrub of Compositæ, and a curious fern, a variety of Aristichum aureum. Towards the northern end of Hattiah, Talipot, cocoa-nut and date-palms appear.

On the 22nd we entered the Sunderbunds, rowing amongst narrow channels, where the tide rises but a few feet. The banks were covered with a luxuriant vegetation, chiefly of small trees, above which rose stately palms. On the 25th, we were overtaken by a steamer from Assam, a novel sight to us, and a very strange one in these creeks, which in some places seemed hardly broad enough for it to pass through. We jumped on board in haste, leaving our boat and luggage to follow us. She had left Dacca two days before, and this being the dry season, the route to Calcutta, which is but sixty miles in a straight line, involved a détour of three hundred.

From the masts of the steamer we obtained an excellent coup-d’œil of the Sunderbunds; its swamps clothed with verdure, and intersected by innumerable inosculating channels, with banks a foot or so high. The amount of tide, which never exceeds ten feet, diminishes in proceeding westwards into the heart of these swamps, and the epoch, direction, and duration of the ebb and flow vary so much in every canal, that at times, after stemming a powerful current, we found ourselves, without materially changing our course, suddenly swept along with a favouring stream.


 

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This is owing to the complex ramifications of the creeks, the flow of whose waters is materially influenced by the most trifling accidents of direction.

Receding from the Megna, the water became saltier, and Nipa fruticans appeared, throwing up pale yellow-green tufts of feathery leaves, from a short thick creeping stem, and bearing at the base of the leaves its great head of nuts, of which millions were floating on the waters, and vegetating in the mud. Marks of tigers were very frequent, and the footprints of deer, wild boars, and enormous crocodiles: these reptiles were extremely common, and glided down the mud banks on the approach of the steamer, leaving between the footmarks a deep groove in the mud made by their tail. The Phœnix paludosa, a dwarf slender-stemmed date-palm, from six to eight feet high, is the all-prevalent feature, covering the whole landscape with a carpet of feathery fronds of the liveliest green. The species is eminently gregarious, more so than any other Indian palm, and presents so dense a mass of foliage, that when seen from above, the stems are wholly hidden.*

The water is very turbid, and only ten to twenty feet deep, which, we were assured by the captain, was not increased during the rains: it is loaded with vegetable matter, but the banks are always muddy, and we never saw any peat. Dense fogs prevented our progress in the morning, and we always anchored at dusk. We did not see a village or house in the heart of the Sunderbunds (though such do occur), but we saw canoes, with fishermen, who use the tame otter in fishing; and the banks were covered with piles of firewood, stacked for the

* Sonneratia, Heritiera littoralis, and Careya, form small gnarled trees on the banks, with deep shining green-leaved species of Carallia Rhizophora, and other Mangroves. Occasionally the gigantic reed-mace (Typha elephantina) is seen, and tufts of tall reeds (Arundo).


 

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Calcutta market. As we approached the Hoogly, the water became very salt and clear; the Nipa fruits were still most abundant, floating out to sea, but no more of the plant itself was seen. As the channels became broader, sand-flats appeared, with old salt factories, and clumps of planted Casuarina.

On the 28th of January we passed Saugor island, and entered the Hoogly, steamed past Diamond Harbour, and landed at the Botanic Garden Ghat, where we received a hearty welcome from Dr. Falconer. Ten days later we bade farewell to India, reaching England on the 25th of March, 1851.

Next Appendix A