Calcutta, 2 February 1893

Kinsky, who had fortunately recovered from his fever, guided me in a small coach through the native quarters early in the morning, as I had wanted to see it but it did not offer as much of interest as Bombay and Hyderabad did. The streets are, if this is possible, even narrower, the houses not ornamented and presenting less variation. In the shops and on the streets there is the same bustling life as in the other cities but it is not as colorful as the natives here mostly wear dirty white clothes.

Our chain of visits we started today with the big museums in which are housed the zoological, mineralogical, geological, ethnographic and applied arts collections. The museum has quite some interesting and valuable treasures. To see them all would require many days. Only the arrangement and and grouping of objects, the lighting in some rooms, the cleanliness and care of the maintenance in all halls and rooms leaves much to be desired. First we were led through the rich mineralogical and geological department which houses also many parts from our countries. In a less pleasant state is the zoological collection, especially the mammals. The humid climate and the mediocre taxidermy were given as excuses. The animals are mostly stuffed according to a scheme and have nearly all the same stature and color so that it is difficult to distinguish at first glance an otter from a mongoose or a member of a similar species. Interesting in this room are the donated collections of antlers and horns of all of India’s cloven-hoofed animals  as well as a comparative display of human and ape skulls as proofs of the „Darwinian“ theory among whose supporters I do not count myself, by the way.

Next to the mammals were the reptiles which were in much better condition, whereas the birds are presented very unfavorably. Nevertheless I was highly interested as all the species of the Indian Ornis were represented here. With a bit of fantasy one could orient oneself and thus find information about the names and other dates for the next steps of our journey. The collection is very rich in fossils and scientifically structured. An especially large Megatherium stands in the middle of the hall. On the ground floor is the collection of conchylia, sponges and corals and is notably by various specimens from Singapore and the surrounding areas.

Our visit ended with the applied arts collection which offered an erudite survey about the various local products in this area. Everything is to be found here from the most simple domestic industry product to the most beautiful and artistically executed objects in which silver and copper play the most crucial role.

Spurred by the things seen in the museum I procured numerous objects in the Calcutta subsidiary of  S. J. Tellery & Co., among them musical instruments of the strangest kind as well as old painted pictures of illustrations of Indian sagas in which Vishnu as Ramachandra and in the incarnation as Krishna with his shepherd girl are the most common.

For the afternoon it was planned to visit the famous botanical garden in the company of the vice-king and his wife. The botanical garden lies on the right bank of the Hoogly, South-west of the suburbs of Haura.

In a charming steam yacht given the name of vice-queen „Maud“  we drove down the Hoogly river, through all the moored ships whose number is legion. Notable are especially large sailing ships,  English and American four-masters with two to three tons of loading capacity which are moored four to five next to each other. Between the ships drive countless boats of the natives, some fast as a dart, some more staid. Some use slender canoes, some square cloddish vehicles similar to a dahabeah which is rowed by its crew with hand and feet while the gesticulate like apes. Strangely formed are the river steamboats which have a large superstructure and a small draft, a rear wheel and a small machine; they look more like a swimming house than a steam ship.

A drive of 20 minutes brought us to the landing point of the botanical garden. On the opposite shore lies the palace of the deceased king of Awadh who has been dethroned by the British government due to his atrocities in the year 1856 and who lived in Calcutta afterwards. He was given a monthly stipend of 150.000 rupees. His hobby was a collection of many hundreds of living animals, especially snakes. He also maintained more than 10.000 trained colorful pigeons which could perform flight maneuvers according to flag signals. During his thirty year period of internment, it is said that he has never his palace and never entertained a single European.

The botanical garden was founded in 1786, is operated by the government and occupies a space of 110 hectares. As far as beauty and diversity of the plants and trees are concerned, this garden does not match that in Peradenia (neither did Victoria garden in Bombay); though it is a pretty place with many small ponds and streams supplied by the water from Hoogly river and well worth a visit. Just at the entrance the viewer’s glance is led to two beautiful straight avenues: One consists of Palmyra palms, lean and straight as an arrow, the other of  mahogany trees. Notable too are all kinds of Indian conifers, casuarinas and palm trees of different species as well as interesting climbing palms. In the middle of the park stand two large orchid houses and a greenhouse whose iron frame has been covered not with glass but only with climbing plants and coconut fibers to protect the plants against the overwhelmingly strong rays of the sun.

The pièce de résistance of the garden was one of the largest trees in India, a mighty Banyan tree (Ficus indica) which produces new trunks in the very well known manner of aerial prop roots. Counting all the aerial roots that emerge from the main trunk, the total radial area occupied by the tree covers about 300 m. Notable too are the Herbarium and the well-endowed library of the botanical garden.

On the return trip from the botanical garden, we went on an excursion with Lord W. L. de la Poer Beresford — the military secretary of the vice-king — a bright optimistic gentleman who is serving already his fifth vice-king and has spent 26 years in the country. The coach of Lord Beresford brought us to the surroundings of Calcutta and through many native villages, then through Haura and finally over Hoogly bridge back to Calcutta. Lord Beresford, who guided the four horse team himself, proved to be an excellent coachman; driving is a difficult task in streets full of children, beggars, animals and carriages.

In the Belvedere, the official residence of the lieutenant-governors of Bengal, beyond the zoological garden in the suburbs of Alipur with its interesting bamboo lined avenues we were invited to a dinner at half past 8 o’clock. The residence whose oldest parts have been built more than a century ago has been renovated and enlarged since so that the style of this pleasing building with its beautiful facade has to be called „mixed“. A shade giving park encloses the building.

Many dignitaries and generals and their wives participated in the dinner at which I sat between the governor’s wife and the consul-general’s one, baroness Heyking. Only one toast was spoken, namely to the health of Our Majesty the Emperor by the governor. This fact surprised everyone as it didn’t happen before that a toast to a foreign ruler was given without toasting at the same time to the health of Her Majesty the Queen. But the vice-king had expressively ordered this proceeding.

The dinner was followed by a soirée, attended by around 300 persons, among them a large number of exceedingly pretty young women whose looks would have qualified to have participated in the earlier dinner too. Also all the rajas currently residing in Calcutta and its surroundings had come and were presented to me. With the assistance of my interpreter I exchanged a few words with every one. One could observe strange types among these Indian princes and enjoy the majestic treasures they were wearing. Only those who have seen it in person can appreciate the splendor and value of the jewels which the rajas wore on their turbans and on their breast.

Especially a pair of brothers distinguished themselves among the rajas by the display of their splendor and wealth of their treasures. The younger one wore a collier of seven rows of pearls which in their sameness and size must have had a value of one million guilders. On the turban and on the breast of the older brother alternated colossal emerald drops lined with dove egg-sized diamonds in the latest style. These stones, it is said, had been part of the French crown jewel collection — Empress Eugenie is said to have worn them — which has been sold a few years ago by the French government. The dear rajas were all very friendly and gave the nicest assurances to the interpreter. Towards midnight we finally returned to Government.

Links

  • Location: Calcutta, India
  • ANNO – on 02.02.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. The Romanian crown prince Ferdinand is paying a visit to Vienna. In London, the Bonapartists try to raise 200.000 pounds to finance the election of Prince Victor in scandal-ridden France.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater plays the comedy „Krieg im Frieden“, while the k.u.k. Hof-Opermtheater is performing Richard Wagner’s „Lohengrin“.

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