THE last act in the drama is when a naval officer, having passed through the several grades of cadet, midshipman, and lieutenant, and having commanded in succession a sloop, a corvette, a frigate, and an ironclad, finds himself afloat once more with his flag flying, as an admiral in command of a station. And so in the year 1892 a turn in the wheel of fortune gave me the command of the East India station, with the old Boadicea for my flagship. I joined her at Aden by mail-steamer, and proceeded in her to Bombay, the headquarters of the station. The Boadicea was a comfortable but obsolete old craft, even in those days; but what of that! The station was far-and-away the best for a rear-admiral, and the best paid one. Moreover, a splendid house at Trincomalee, and a bungalow at Bombay, added much to its attractions.
The Boadicea had been somewhat unlucky. She had a large sick-list and many men in hospital, and soon after I joined the doctor died, and my flag-captain fell a victim to heat apoplexy at Trincomalee. But as soon as I had mastered the details of the station and got things ship-shape, inspected the squadron, and worked up arrears, caused by the
illness of my predecessor, we made tracks for Mauritius, touching at the island of Rodriguez, to give the officers and crew a change after their long spell at Bombay and Ceylon.
I have already remarked, and am still of that opinion, that the best time a naval officer has in the service is as a captain. An admiral is such a howling swell that he must sit still and pull the strings and make others work; but he can't do the work himself without interfering with those who would do it a great deal better. Surrounded by able and most willing officers, his work is made easy, though his responsibility is great. He has to consider the dignity of his position, no matter how little he may care for it. No longer must he spend hours in the jib-net watching the dolphin, harpoon in hand, as his ship springs through the flying foam, as I used to do in the saucy little Reindeer; plunge overboard with a rope for a morning bath in mid-ocean, as in the old Calcutta days; climb to the foretopmast cross-trees to look out for land in a blinding snowstorm off the Horn; jump overboard for the edification and amusement of the ship's company at sea; sling himself over the stern with a bucket of paint and a big brush to paint the cabin windows of his ship; and as for flying along the lower deck in pyjamas, with bare feet, because the ship was on fire, why, it would not be a very dignified proceeding for a British admiral! No; however fit he may feel for one and all of these eccentricities, he must consider his deportment, and walk the poop, spyglass under his arm, the admiration, and sometimes the terror, of his officers and crew. And there is a ridiculous contrast to all this when the same officer,
once more on half-pay, slouches down Piccadilly, jostled by sandwich-men and crossing-sweepers, of no more consequence than a Cabinet Minister out of office or a telegraph clerk. However, " Il faut souffrir pour etre belle!"
A week's delightful passage under sail - for the old Boadicea could sail with a fair wind like a junk, though with the wind before the beam she just lay over on her side and declined to move - brought us in sight of Rodriguez, a mere speck on the chart, in lat. 20° S. some 350 miles east of Mauritius. It had always been my wish to visit Rodriguez, having heard of the big stags which were said to be on that island. Nor were we disappointed, for on the first day my flag-lieutenant, Cecil Hickley, and I accounted for five deer, and others were bagged by the sportsmen from the ship.
We remained ten days at Rodriguez, a perfect paradise for sportsmen, hunting deer and shooting guinea-fowl and partridges, which were plentiful. The only white people on the island were the magistrate, the doctor, and the priest, and as none of them was on speaking terms with the others, I had to arrange my dinner-parties accordingly. The ladies - there were two of them - were also in a condition of armed neutrality. The population consisted of some 2000 blacks and creoles, who lived by fishing, and did a little poaching on their own account: however, they were very keen to show us sport, and understood the art of driving deer to perfection. The anchorage is a good one, surrounded by coral-reefs, forming a secure harbour inside which the Boadicea and her consorts rode peacefully at anchor.
Leaving Rodriguez, we ran down before the brisk
trade-wind to Mauritius, and moored head-and-stern in Port Louis. More than thirty years had passed since I left these shores, and how changed they now appeared ! The old " Peter Botte," upon the summit of which I had planted the union-jack, still reared its head proudly aloft, defiant of the hurricane which had only one month before our arrival devastated the island. Below, all was desolation: churches, sugar-mills, and many public buildings laid low; the native dwellings destroyed, and the lovely gardens at Pamplemousse turned into a jungle. In the harbour many fine ships were on shore and others dismasted. And all this damage was done in three hours, much of it in five minutes! Many people may remember the gale which swept over the British Isles in March 1895, when great havoc was done. Noble trees which had withstood the gales of a century were uprooted or snapped asunder, and yet the force of the wind was but eighty-five miles an hour, whilst at Mauritius the wind was registered at 112 miles an hour, and for the space of five minutes at 123. Before this awful blast nothing could stand, and houses built of wood and stone went down like a pack of cards. The centre of the storm appears to have passed directly over the ill-fated town, and it is possible that its force may have been even greater than that registered at the observatory.
A curious feature of this hurricane seems to have been that its force was greatest near the earth ; the higher one went, the less was the destruction. Thus at Curepipe, 1500 feet above the sea, the damage was comparatively slight, and it is probable that on the tops of the mountains the wind was no more than a strong gale. Neither Reunion nor
THE GALE OF MARCH 1890
Rodriguez felt anything of this storm, although situated but 100 and 350 miles respectively from Mauritius. Professor Meldrum of the Royal Observatory, Mauritius, has made this matter his especial study, and his plans showing the path of these cyclones during the last fifty years are of great, interest. It seems that they have their rise, roughly speaking, between 10° S. lat. and the equator, and between 90° and 100° east long., from whence they travel direct towards Mauritius or Reunion, and passing over these islands, or between them and Madagascar, are deflected suddenly to the south-east, and expend themselves in the South Indian Ocean. Cyclones are most frequent from November to March,
The Corps De Garden Mauritius
[This picture, held sideways, looks like the profile of a human face, and on the right-hand slope is a rock resembling the recumbent figure of a man, said to be Napoleon waiting for the restoration of the island to the French.]
and occasionally in April, but are unknown during the rest of the year. They would seem to be begotten in the calm region, between the south-east tradewind and the north-east monsoon, probably causing a vortex and rotary motion of the air. Professor Meldrum has a theory in which he traces a distinct connection between the periods during which the spots in the sun are most numerous and these cyclones; but whilst admitting the high authority of so learned an expert, I confess I am not scientific enough to understand why the sun's influence should be directed against Mauritius, to the exclusion of other portions of the globe.
The disaster which fell upon this once favoured isle brought forth some of the most heroic qualities of mankind; and the noble exertions of the Governor, Sir Hubert Jerningham, the doctors, the military, and many others, not forgetting the ladies who devoted themselves to the sick, the wounded, and the dying, call forth one's admiration, and will never be forgotten. Nor, on the other hand, will be the cowardly and scandalous behaviour of the black creole population, who refused to exert themselves to rescue the dying or to remove the dead from under the ruins unless well paid beforehand for so doing. In consequence of the earnest appeals of the Governor, money poured into the colony from public and private sources, and in a marvellously short time commercial confidence was restored; the planters became hopeful, and, encouraged by the widespread sympathy manifested from all quarters, especially from the mother country, they faced the disaster cheerfully and bravely. Before our departure the island had regained some of its former prosperity,
THE CHASSES IN MAURITIUS.
but it will be many years before its beauty can be restored.
Those acquainted with Mauritius are apt to associate sport with the chasses which are the fashion in the island, whether it be the chasse au cerf or chasse au perdrix. In either case it is a grand " function." The proprietor, usually a Frenchman, invites a number of his friends to assemble at a given rendez-vous about daybreak, most of them having driven fifteen or twenty miles to the meet. If partridge shooting be the order of the day, the guns are paired off and a pointer allotted to each pair. Shooting begins about seven or eight o'clock, and is over by ten or eleven, when the sportsmen adjourn to a bungalow or shooting-box, where a sumptuous repast awaits them. Having partaken of the hospitality of their host, they break up and return home.
From fifteen to thirty brace of francolins, or black partridges, with a sprinkling of grey ones, is considered a good bag, so the slaughter cannot be considered to be great. Generally the pair who have the best dog make up the bulk of the bag, and as I was the honoured guest on these occasions, the best dog was told off for me. My companion was the owner of the animal, and, with the courtesy of a Frenchman, let me do the shooting. The birds generally get up singly and are easy to shoot, and I gained a reputation, altogether fictitious, for having on one occasion killed nineteen out of twenty shots, and on another twenty-one out of twenty-three. An occasional hare is seen, and in some places quail are numerous. One of the few Englishmen who own shootings in the island is Mr George Robinson, to whom I am indebted for many happy days.
The chasse au cerf is arranged on a very grand scale. I have seen as many as one hundred guns assembled, with twice as many beaters, and a multitude of dogs of every sort of breed, and variety of size and colour, but all eager for blood. The guns being posted along the drives, extending often for miles, the beaters commence driving at a given signal: presently deer would appear, and shooting commence along the line. Hinds were not supposed to be shot, but the order was seldom enforced, and at the conclusion of the beat, which generally occupied four or five hours, an adjournment was made for dejeuner, when the spoil was laid out. The bag usually consisted of three or four pros cerf, as many trois-cornishons, or three-year-old stags, and a few pricketts and hinds.
I never cared for this form of sport, and during ten or a dozen chasses, mostly got up in my honour, I only fired my rifle once, when I bowled over a small stag. My kind hosts were much disappointed, as I was always posted in a likely place. I told them that, whilst appreciating their kindness and hospitality, I did not care for the chasses; but if they would let me stalk in the forest, I would undertake to kill a stag any day. This privilege was granted me on my subsequent visit to Mauritius with very satisfactory results. It must be remembered that the seasons in Mauritius are the reverse of ours and similar to Australian, consequently June, July, and August are the winter months, during which season the climate is cool and pleasant, and one can shoot all day in a tweed suit as in Scotland. In fact, the high lands about Curepipe somewhat resemble that country, and it is always raining there.
SPORT IN MAURITIUS
It is in this part of the island that the forests extend, and the deer are found there, seldom coming down to the low country, where they would damage the sugar-canes.
Among the many charming old French families in Mauritius I may mention those of Mr Rochecouste and Sir Cilicourt Antelm, who with his brother Leopold and his son are all keen sportsmen. From all these gentlemen I received much kindness and hospitality, and enjoyed splendid sport stalking in the forest. Sir Cilicourt lives in a charming bungalow at Plaine-Sophie : the house is as full as it can hold of trophies which have fallen to his rifle, and though now too old to indulge in his favourite amusement, he delights in giving pleasure to others, especially to keen sportsmen. With my flag-lieutenant I spent many happy days stalking on Plaine-Raoul and Plaine-Sophie, and though I do not propose to record a tenth part of the adventures that befell us there, I may be excused for relating some of them.
The first time I obtained permission was on M. Rochecouste's property at Plaine-Raoul. Leaving Reduit, where I was the guest of the Governor, about midnight, I reached the border of the forest just as dawn was breaking, and found the piqueurs (keepers) waiting for me. We had not gone far when we sighted a herd of deer, among which were several good stags. To my astonishment, the two piqueurs sat down and began smoking, apparently not thinking much of me. Much disgusted, I went on alone, my coxswain following me at a short distance. The deer soon spotted me and began moving off; so selecting the biggest stag, I fired
at him at 200 yards, upon which they all bolted and disappeared over the sky-line. Feeling sure I had missed, I followed leisurely, and presently came in sight of them again. They were standing about looking uneasy, but the big stag was lying down. They caught sight of me at once and again made off, the stag following. With my glass 1 could see a dark stain on his flank, and I noticed that he was going heavily, so as soon as they were out of sight I made after them. On gaining the top of a hill I found the deer had gone into a wood, but I came suddenly on the big stag by himself, and rolled him over as he dashed after the others. My coxswain now joined me, and we gralloched the deer, a splendid beast with a grand head measuring 32 inches. We were having a smoke when the two keepers came up and told me in their French patois that the deer had all gone (fin allez). "Yes," I said, "all but that one," pointing to the stag, which they had not seen. Their astonishment was amusing. Pierre, the head stalker, was greatly excited: he came up and shook hands with me, saying he had never seen such shooting, concluding I had missed as a matter of course. He said the people who went out with him never fired over 50 yards, and then they always missed, so the poor fellow might well be excused for his behaviour. After this we thoroughly understood each other. I killed another stag that evening and lost a third, which escaped into the bush. Pierre and I killed many good stags together after this. I found him a first-rate stalker, very keen cool, and with a wonderful eye for deer.
Accompanied by Hickley, we used frequently to
go out to Plaine-Sophie to dine and sleep, starting before daylight for the ground, escorted by Pierre or other attendants. In the rutting season, which begins in August and lasts till the first week in September, we could hear the stags roaring round the bungalow, and we had not to go far before getting a shot. The early morning and evening was the best time, as the deer retreated to the dense forest during the day, where it was impossible to follow them. We generally worked back to the bungalow about ten to breakfast, when our cheery old host, Sir Cilicourt, was on the look out for us, and great was his delight when we brought back the head of a gros cerf, and his disappointment if we did not. Hickley had not been so successful as myself, so one day we went out together, and I insisted on his taking my double express rifle, with which he killed a couple of good stags right and left, and afterwards a third. The three heads were photographed in a group.
There was a fine corrie, called a trou, lying between two plains, which always held deer, and we never passed it without spying. One day when I was out with young Leopold Antelm, a keen sportsman and a good rifle-shot, we saw some deer lying in this corrie, so we proceeded to stalk them. Leopold insisted on my taking the shot: whilst we were discussing the matter the deer took the alarm and. galloped across the valley, making for a pass on the opposite side. Running forward to get a shot, I fired right and left at the best stag. The first ball took him in the ribs and staggered him, the second went through his head and rolled him over, to the delight of my young host and the keepers.
I was much pleased at this shot, from having such a gallery
Another stalk and I have done. One early morning late in the season I left the bungalow with one of Sir Cilicourt's keepers and a gillie. Following a jungle path, we moved carefully through the forest there was no wind, and not a sound could be heard but an occasional roar of a stag. A heavy mist rose from the ground, wetting us to the skin; occasionally a ghostly form might be seen moving through the scrub, but whether a stag or hind it was impossible to say in the obscure light. Presently a roar proclaimed a big stag afoot, the challenge being answered by another. Cautiously moving forward in the direction of the sound, we came to a dismal swamp knee-deep in mud and water, in which we could proceed but slowly, pushing our way through the rotten underwood. It was impossible to see many yards ahead, and we frequently paused, waiting for the next roar. It was evident that in this uncanny place we had reached the sanctuary, the battle-ground, of the gros cerf.
The trees, though small, were so closely packed we had to push our way through, lifting one leg out of the slough before planting the other. In this manner we forced our way into the heart of the sanctuary. The heat was great ; steam was rising from the damp ground ; we could not see 10 yards ahead, but ever and again came the roar of a stag close by. We had taken a quarter of an hour to move a hundred yards, when some ghostly forms flitted by only a few yards off: phantom beasts were all about us. We stood still waiting, when the stalker silently pointed to a dark mass not 15
yards off. That it was a stag there could be no doubt by its size, but as to how it was lying it was impossible to say. I therefore fired into the mass. All was still, and the smoke hung like a pall around us. We rushed forward and found nothing! - not a sign of a beast. I was amazed; surely this was no phantom. We looked at each other in blank astonishment. "Vous avez manqué, monsieur!" but it was impossible at that distance. But how to account for it?
We searched around, but the trampled mud and water foiled us. Tracks there were in every direction, but not a sign of a beast. What would Sir Cilicourt say? what must the stalkers think of me - these men who boasted that the Admiral never missed ? I never felt so disgusted and ashamed of myself. The rifle seemed all right, the flap-sight had not been lifted in pushing through the bushes. I must have missed. I sat down and smoked in anguish, the only consolation under the circumstances. The stalkers, poor fellows, were dejected; the head one, in his anxiety to help me, pointed to some fresh tracks where the stag must have gone, but it was no comfort to me. We must go home. Meanwhile the other stalker had been looking in quite another direction, and presently called out in an excited tone, "Sang, monsieur, sang!" Never was a word more welcome. I rushed to the spot, and there, sure enough, was blood, and plenty, of it, leading away into the dense thicket and bespattering the bushes on both sides, showing that the deer must have got it through the body. Eagerly we followed on the blood-trail, which crossed a ride, into the tangle on the other side.
We had not gone three yards into this when we heard a crash a short distance ahead, and then all was still. I at once stopped the pursuit, knowing that the stag was badly wounded but still able to use his legs, so I sent the head stalker back to the bungalow, some miles off, for the dogs, whilst I and the other man sat down and waited. We were thoroughly wet through, my matches were spoilt, and no whisky was at hand. However, the sun came out warm, and I got a light from the fieldglass of my binoculars, to the amazement of my companion. So we smoked our pipes with much satisfaction, though I was disgusted at having made such a bungling shot, and felt very doubtful if we should ever see the stag again, for my experience of woodland deer is that they are seldom bagged if once lost sight of. Whilst waiting the return of the stalker we posted ourselves where four rides met, so that no beast could cross without our seeing it.
After waiting an hour and a half the man arrived with three hounds, also a basket of refreshments sent by Sir Cilicourt. The hounds were at once put on the trail, and in a moment a grand chorus announced that the stag was afoot. Thinking it probable he would break cover in the direction he had taken, I ran down the ride to cut him off, and thus lost my chance of a shot, for he broke back and crossed the ride behind me. Hearing the men shouting, I turned back, and, guided by the baying of the hounds, plunged into the wood and came upon the gallant beast at bay, with the hounds barking round him. A ball in the neck finished him. I found the first shot had taken him too far back, and must have killed him eventually; but without the hounds we
H.M.S. Boadicea Leaving Mauritius
should never have recovered him in that dense forest. The usual rites being observed, we were soon en route for the bungalow, one of the keepers bearing on his shoulder the finest head of the season, to the delight of our kind old host, who had waited breakfast till my return. So ended the most exciting stalk I ever had in Mauritius.
I subsequently introduced several of these deer, a variety of the sambur, into Madagascar, and also kept some in our grounds at Trincomalee, where they became quite tame and fed out of our hands. I also sent a stag and two hinds to the Zoological Gardens, where they now are.
The races in the Champ-de-Mars are a great feature in Mauritius, and are always well attended, though the sport may not be first class. I was in the Governor's box on one of these occasions when a Roman Catholic priest came in, and we chatted together for some time in French, when the padre, in answer to my offer to have a glass of champagne, replied in excellent English. I remarked, "How well you speak English, Father 0'Flinagen ! " " Sure, and why the devil shouldn't I ? " said he; "don't I come from Tipperary!" And this after I had been bombarding him in bad French for half an hour!
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