Calcutta, 1 February 1893

At 8 o’clock in the morning our special train rode into the station concourse of Howrah. There I was received by the vice king Lord Landsdowne, surrounded by adjutants and members of the government, by the lieutenant-governor of Bengal, Sir C. Elliot, and a large number of curious spectators. Both inside the brightly colored station and outside stood one honor guard company on each location, while the vice king’s life guard, all Indians over six feet tall mounted on gorgeous Australian horses, and a squadron of cavalry escorted us in our ceremonial carriage à la Daumont to Government House, Troops lined the way to there, namely the 6th and 16th Bengal infantry regiment, the English rifle brigade all in black, volunteer marines, as well as volunteers from Calcutta on horse and on foot as well as the young pupils of a military school.

First we crossed a large bridge over  Hooghly river, the western arm of the Ganges. The bridge is 506 m long; but the river is both upstream and downstream much broader while still part of the skyline of the city. The part of the Hoogly accessible to the largest ships has an average width of 230 m. On the left shore of the Hoogly, i.e. on the East, lies Calcutta proper while the suburbs of Howrah from where we just came is on the right shore. All ships find enough space to land, even warships with notable drafts can anchor within the city as the river has the required depth.

In front of Government House awaited multiple honor guard companies, among the volunteer marines. This building is a large palace covered by a central dome linked by galleries with four pavilions with outside staircases,  columned halls etc. everything in what generally is called Empire style. It dates from 1799 to1804 and has been built by Wellington’s brother, Marquis of Wellesley was governor-general of India from 1798 to1805 or more precisely at that time „governor-general of Fort William in Bengal“. An English palace, Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, had served as the model for the building.

On the large open staircase I was awaited by the commander of India and commander of the troops in Bengal, General Lord Roberts, with all generals and regimental commanders, the heads of the government departments, the consuls and many rajas. My first visit was to Lady Landsdowne’s, after which I retired to my rooms to sort the mail and write my diary as well as receive a delegation of compatriots living in Calcutta which was led by consul Heilgers.

Towards evening I took a small trip around the city and visited the zoological garden. Surrounding Government House are large public buildings, the town hall), the secretary building, the legislative council office, the high court and many other governmental and private buildings — in ancient, medieval style or in none,  i.e. „modern style“ — whose proud facades have rightly given the name of „city of palaces“ to Calcutta.  As proud as these buildings may display their pediments and domes up in the air to Albion’s glory, not all of them stand on firm ground. During the last years, the high court, modeled after Ypres town hall and built on pillars,  has sagged noticeably in the sandy ground at the river shore. At the time of my visit, they were laboring to lift the palace up, a hard and dangerous work.

South from this complex containing the public buildings and East of the Hoogly river and nearly 2 km West of the brilliant mansion Chowringhee road is the Maidan or the esplanade. This is actually but a meadow but truly a meadow like our own Prater whose name can be traced to the Spanish word Prado for meadow and likewise a corso and place for recreation. The Maidan is located at the river shore from the charming garden of Eden and continuing on to the proud octagon of Fort William and occupies about 780 hectares.

Year after year, the grass of the Maidan is shining in a fresh green — a true refreshment in this latitudes — Groves of trees, ponds, pools, statues of British politicians and generals adorn the walking, riding and carriage pathways that criss-cross the area. All these paths are lined with trees which also enclose large meadows for sporting activities and the parade ground. They cover also the southern end of the Maidan where it merges into the racing track with its flat racing course. Some military forces have also pitched their tents in these meadows; it often serves as a camping ground for troops on the move that pass through the city. In the morning and evening hours there is plenty of life going on and in all places sport is rendered homage. Here Englishmen and natives are tirelessly playing polo on excellent ponies. There crickets are batted. Many golf plays are under way and joined by ladies who prefer to play this game. In between, there is a glittering colorful moving corso of carriages: In the most diverse carriages roll by the high life, civil servants, officers and so many rich native Indians. Numerous riders, ladies and gentlemen, ride by up and down. In Caclutta, one seems to undestand how to entertain oneself with pleasurable activities. Every day of the week has its special purpose: Soon there is a running event or a military sports show. general polo, Jours fixes and garden parties in which all society takes part.

My trip through the just described districts and the Maidan led me to the zoological garden which is separated by a small stream from the south end of the Maidan. The zoological garden is owned by a private company, receives subventions from the city ans is quite nice in its park-like environment.  The animals are housed in different small houses and there are ponds, groves and flower beds everywhere. The animal collection, its variety and rarty of species is outstanding. Only the animals could be kept better and namely more cleanly. The inspector apologized for this mischief by pointing to the financial situation of the enterprise which has given its best to transform within a short time a bare swampy terrain into a park and set up an expensive zoological garden.

In the monkey and ape cages was remarkably a gibbon from Java, also called „Wauwau“ (Hylobates leuciscus), who received us with terrible clamor; also an orang-Utan and a mean fully grown mandrill. In the carnivore house which contains a large number of tigers, lion, panthers and various other Indian wildcats I was shown a very old tiger, a man eater. The beast is said to have killed more than 100 humans. What concerns the Ornis,  there were to my pleasure many Indian species well represented, namely marsh birds, pigeons and cuckoo species. i found on this spot many species I had met during my hunting expeditions. Rich in numbers of animals is the house of reptiles in whose pool contains crocodiles which would not deign to eat the duck thrown at them. I was very surprised to see an Indian warden enter the cobra cage, catching the cobra with an expert grip and showing us its fangs. The man continued his daring act in the python and rattlesnake cages. He irritated the rattlesnake until it started to rattle and one could both see and hear the animal’s rage. He had, by the way, already had to pay for his daring as he had been bitten twice, one of which threatened his life when a cobra bit him.

The return drive saw the Corso at its maximum; all carriages were arranged around the music pavilion and the beautiful world was moving in the alleys and avenues. Alas —- life’s joy was not for all mortals: Thus there was a parade dinner in the evening at Government House with 80 guests and the usual toasts and a long reception. The presence of my charming host Lady Landsdowne, who assured me that her husband and she also are aware of more pleasant activities than a gala dinner,  made me really appreciate the necessity of such ceremonial festivities and see them from a new perspective.

Links

  • Location: Calcutta, India
  • ANNO – on 01.02.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. The British government has protested in Washington, D.C. against the American intervention in Hawaii. The Americans continued their activities without change. The correspondent sees a strain in their relations. The Panama scandal in France continues.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater plays the tragedy „Arria und Messalina“, while the k.u.k. Hof-Opermtheater is used for a „redoute“, a charity ball with music under the direction of Eduard Strauss.

 

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