At Sea to Singapore — Pulau Besar, 5 April 1893

A few miles in front of the coastline of the Malacca peninsula we set our course so that we could without interruption see and enjoy both  the lovely view of the coast, the hills and mountains of the peninsula among which Ophir in  Johore rises to an altitude of 1175 m, and also the small groups of islands which lay alongside the course in front of the coastline. Even with unarmed eyes one was able to distinguish the luxurious plant decoration which covered the peninsula and the group of islands.

Numerous Malaysian fishing boats sailed on the calm sea whose emerald green color offered an effective contrast to the deep blue of the sky. The far distance that the Malaysian fishers dare to go out into the high sea with their canoes and the skill with which they operate in rough seas are remarkable. These canoes are almost even smaller than our „Sandolinen“ or two-seater; two men sit in each boat and move them forward with double oars; sometimes they even hoist a small sail. All around the sea was almost covered with such canoes whose crew curiously ogled with small piercing eyes  at the proudly passing mighty „Elisabeth“. The fishermen covered their heads with large straw hats shaped like a bell, while the rest of the dress was very deficient due to the heat and the occupation.

During the last days we have seen remarkably few ships, but today a few steam ships came into view.

As I planned only to arrive the next morning in Singapore and thus had a few hours to spare, I decided to visit one of the islands alongside the coast. The map was consulted and soon an island was found called Besar which is part of the Water Islands, South-east of the formerly important trading city of Malacca, the destination of the expedition. I solicited participants and within a short time had assembled a group of nature lovers and hunters, besides me and my gentlemen and also Sanchez, Bourguignon, Regner and Mallinarich, to explore the island.

The Water Islands are a group of smaller islands, whose largest is Besar. They are all covered in rich vegetation and according to the map all uninhabited; only on Pulau Undan, the most outward of these islands stands a lighthouse.

After „Elisabeth“ had anchored about half a mile in front of the island, the expedition corps set out in two boats and landed in a small bay which was filled with coral reefs and only through a small passage we could land.

At the shore I had the gentlemen assemble in a line, between each shooter stood two sailors; Myself I wanted to be at the center of the line, Sanchez and Regner however were at the respective wings — in this way we expected to cross the island. This was a beautiful plan; soon however it became clear that such a hunt would have been a splendid undertaking in the beet fields at home but was impossible to execute on a tropical island. As soon as we had advanced a bit we were met with insurmountable obstacles as the growth of the vegetation in its richness and density made a further advance nearly impossible.

Those who have not personally seen the rampant growth of the local trees, bushes, herbs and lianas created by nature’s elementary power can not properly imagine it as pictures will only offer a bland representation of reality.  Everywhere there were tree trunks laying on the ground, victims of the elements and the slowly choking activity of the lianas. They were covered in moss, ferns and orchids, above these witnesses of the never-ending destruction various trees were arching their high leafy canopies; lianas thick as an arm connected, like snakes, one tree with the next in a deadly embrace; Tree ferns as well as bamboo, banana trees and rhododendron trees formed a dense closed undergrowth, in which every step had to gained with the knife. I enjoyed the view and the opulence which attracted me and made me stop in the heavy work of creating a path through the jungle.

It was indeed very difficult to advance; namely at 45° Celsius and under the burning rays of the sun that shine down nearly vertically. In the struggle with the terrain which we fought with a knife in the hand, the sweat was running from the front as if we had been in a steam bath. Soon all sense of direction was lost as well, the order was broken, the beautiful line was interrupted, the sailors did not walk between us but behind us and everyone of our party chose his path as well as it was possible.

The animal wildlife was sparsely represented; only a few birds were audible. Only rarely could one see one in the impenetrable sea of leaves. Still I managed to bag a fruit dove whose feathers glittered in all colors of the rainbow and a Asian Koel (Eudynamis honorata), while Regner shot a splendid Malay yellow-breasted sun-bird (Arachnechthra pectoralis).

In order not to lose the connection between us we had to shout continuously to prevent a full separation and answer the calls. Finally we were all convinced that further attempts were useless and pushed in order to circle around the island towards the coast where we met Mallinarich who had separated himself from us earlier and went with two men to catch crabs, sponges, mollusks and other representatives of the maritime fauna.

Soon we found a track in the sand which according to all our assembled experienced trackers had to be that of a soliped, and declared it to be of the species Equus caballus. This meant that, as horses were not native to the island, we were close to humans, so that the island was not at all uninhabited as we had assumed from our map study. A confirmation of this fact determined by our exploration was our discovery of a coeur eight oars under a large tree which removed all remaining illusions that we were on a virgin island.

And truly, after we had taken another turn, there stood Malay fishermen in front of us who looked puzzled upon the European intruders but then offered water in a friendly manner to us and our sailors which they drew from a deep fountain. Some miserable reef huts on which hung drying served as homes to the fishermen in whose proximity were two dear brindled ponies which naturally explained the puzzle of the tracks. Around the huts, the islanders had burned down the jungle to gain space for some sort of cultivation.

Who can describe our surprise when we discovered, following a small path, two Buddha temples and a small Chinese settlement opposite them. The temples as well as the largest of the houses were constructed out of bricks painted sky-blue.  Close by stood multiple reef huts erected upon stakes according to Malay custom. In the shadow of large trees, this settlement made a very inviting impression upon us, so that we accepted our failure of exploring Besar willingly in the expectation that we might be offered a refreshment. With a friendly air the immigrated children of the Heavenly Kingdom advanced toward us. A very happy and garrulous old Chinese woman seemed to be especially pleased about the unexpected visit.

The Chinese emigrate, as is well-known, in large masses from their home country and inundate all countries of the world in West and East. That we had met these brothers with queues in Calcutta was not surprising; but it was strange to see even this remote island be an object of the Chinese commercial interest.

The people brought chairs and as a very welcome refreshment, zwieback and a delicious tea, and each of us drank some cups of this beverage, while the brave old woman smiling and never tiring brought out new portions. When we finally were ready to depart and offered a few coins to show our appreciation of the hospitality, the Chinese refused all thanks and were not to be moved to accept any payment despite our insistence. Finally Clam helped us out of our embarrassment by presenting flowers to the old woman with an elegant deep bow. She put them with a loud laugh into her hair. Sanchez gave the island hostess his colored belt after we departed with a hearty handshake.

We moved further along the shore. Three blue and white colored collared kingfishers (Halcyon chloris), as well as multiple specimens of a species of little mangrove bittern (Butoroides javanica) were bagged by us. Palm leaves which I had cut on the way were intended to serve as decoration on our afterdeck. Soon the shore changed its character and instead of the smooth sand there were large round boulders over which we had to jump or like equilibrists we had to climb over them and balance on them. Some of these stony obstacles were so moist that we could not get a clear grip but could only laboriously peg on them. The attempt to find a path in the interior of the island was foiled by the terrain which was even more impenetrable and thus we climbed, crawled and slid in goose steps one after another. The clothes and shoes were soon in a deplorable state; the tide was rising ever higher: the roaring waves crashed against the rock — and finally we were all laying in the water at a particularly difficult crossing of one rock to the next.

After various dangerous actions we finally arrived at the spot where our boats were anchored and we returned soon on board of „Elisabeth“, very tired in torn and wet clothes where we quickly went to our cabins and only reappeared on deck late in the evening for the dinner.

Then the voyage to Singapore was resumed. Late in the evening the fire at Pulau Pisang became visible.

Links

  • Location: At Sea to Singapore
  • ANNO – on 05.04.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is performing „Faust“, the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater „Margarethe (Faust)“.

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