« EelmineJätka »
and anchored before noon next day in the Kwang-tung Juru.
From a distance, all the islands of the Archipelago appear to rise to about the same height,-between 500 and 600 feet-presenting a fairly level sky-line from north to south, and with the exception of East Island, which shows a white sandy beach, all seem fringed with thickets of mangroves.
The strait, which is about a mile wide, separates the islands of John and Henry Lawrence, and with its smooth water and low banks, on which the veil of mangrove and jungle, extending to the water's edge, is broken at short intervals by small bluffs of pale clay shale, might easily, but for its brilliant blue colour, be mistaken for a quiet river.
We landed in the afternoon on the eastern shore, and at once set to work cutting a path, for here was the densest kind of Andaman jungle, and although within it one comes across little patches where the bush is fairly open, it is, on the whole, a wild tangled mass of trunks and branches, bound together by countless ropes of creeping bamboo and thorny rattan.
Cutting right and left, avoiding a thick bush here and a hanging screen of creepers there, perspiring at every step, we forced a sinuous way in from the beach, until, coming upon a well-trodden pig-track, we found progress so much easier, that, with a little chopping now and again, we were able to move about with some degree of freedom, and along the path so slowly made, a long line of traps was set and baited in readiness for night.
Such a performance is one that regularly occurs during the first visit to each fresh locality in which one collects, and on these occasions the noise caused by chopping away branches and crashing through the bushes very naturally makes the denizens of the jungle conspicuous by their absence.
Afterwards, however, as you move quietly along the path, with all the faculties freely given to the detection of those various objects to the desire for possession of which your presence is due, the jungle seems a much less lonely place, and after days spent in wandering in its shade, during which a bit more path
has been cut here, and a few more yards of open space added there, you find that you can take quite a long walk, entirely uninterrupted by use of the parang hanging at your side.
Among the few birds shot that first afternoon were the beautiful Andamanese oriole, with gorgeous plumage of black and yellow, and a peculiar cuckoo-Centropus andamanensis-soberly clad in brown and grey. This bird was a source of much disappointment on one occasion. There are no squirrels known to the Andamans, and seeing what I took for one, without waiting, in the momentary excitement of an apparently fresh discovery, to look more closely, I made a rapid snap-shot, and down tumbled a cuckoo; my consequent disgust may be imagined. The bird, however, can easily be mistaken for a small mammal, for besides resembling one, with its dark brown plumage and fairly long tail, its habit is to spring from bough to bough and creep along the branches in a very rodent-like manner.
Warned by the fading daylight, we returned to the shore, and found a quarter of a mile of dry coral between ourselves and the water, with the dinghy high and dry, so, after making it fast to the mangroves, we picked a way across the reef and hailed the schooner for another boat.
These coral-reefs, although their beauty of form and colouran endless change of myriad shapes and tints—when seen through the clear water from a boat above is quite beyond description, awaken far less admiration when they have to be crossed on foot while the tide is low. It is impossible for even natives to cross them barefooted. Nearest the shore comes first a belt of mud and coral débris that is easily traversed; next lies a broad strip of sharp and brittle madrepores which break and crumble beneath one's weight; while, seaward, rise from deep water the Astræasgreat solid masses of which the reefs are mostly built; and as one jumps from mound to mound, one vaguely wonders at which of those in front a slip may occur, and as the least result plunge one head over heels into the pools around. With a small boat, however, shallow and quick-turning, it is generally possible to pass through these latter and reach a point, where, protected by boots
the shore may be attained at the slight expense of a wetting below the knees.
To escape this unpleasant little journey, we moved a day or two later farther up the strait to where the shore was free from coral, and therefore more accessible, although having reached it, we were confronted by a precipitous cliff of crumbling earth, but when the top was gained, after a zigzag climb, we moved on level ground covered with heavy jungle.
The smaller species of birds were very rare here, but we got almost immediately the first specimen of the island parrots, the brilliant green Palæornis magnirostris. This bird is the local representative of a continental form, from which it differs only in the enormous size of the bill, which in the male is of bright scarlet.
It is a somewhat callous thing to attempt to do, but should one succeed in only severely wounding a parrot, others of the species are sure to be obtained. The cries of the injured bird so attract its companions that they will gather near from all parts within hearing, and seem so possessed with curiosity to know what is wrong, as to be, for the time, perfectly oblivious of the collector and his gun, while they sit around or fly nearer and nearer to their wounded companion and answer its loud croaking notes with others equally harsh.
Parrots of three species were very numerous, and perhaps the most frequent noise in the jungle was their shrill scream, uttered as they flew from tree to tree. Many big black crows, too, flopped—a word which exactly describes their movement
-noisily about, and, when hidden by a screen of leaves, we mimicked their cawing notes, more bewildered birds it would be difficult to find. In these woods the larger birds were fairly common, and the traps obtained for us numerous rats of two varieties, one of which squealed pitifully when approached (Mus stoicus, sp. nov., and M. flebilis, sp. nov.).
The Archipelago is inhabited by a tribe known as AkaBalawa, now on the verge of extinction, as it numbers only
twenty individuals; but the sole traces of occupation we came across were the decayed remains of a canoe, lying up one of the mangrove creeks that branch off from the strait.
We remained here three days, all that could be spared from the time given to the cruise, and early on January 11th left for Port Blair.
We enter the Harbour-Surveillance-Ross Island Pastimes—Visit the Chief
Commissioner–The Harbour-Cellular Jail-Lime Kilns—Phænix BayHopetown-Murder of Lord Mayo—Chatham Island-Haddo and the Andamanese-Tea Gardens — Viper Island and Jail—The Convicts
Occupations—Punishments—Troops-Departure. A FRESH breeze from the north raised an army of dancing white-caps on the sea, as, rolling along with the wind astern, we made the run to Port Blair in about seven hours.
Easily picking up the Settlement while some distance off, on account of its proximity to Mount Harrieta pointed hill rising about 1200 feet-we came to anchor to the south of the jetty inside Ross Island, and were immediately boarded by one of the native police--a representative of which body was always on board during the day throughout our stay. This measure is taken to see that the crews of vessels in the harbour hold no communication with the convicts, and also for the prevention of smuggling.
Soon afterwards the doctor and port officer came aboard : both these gentlemen seemed at first to regard us with some suspicion, and indeed by this time, more than two months out from port, we were certainly a rather ruffianly looking party.
The island of Ross is situated at the mouth of the harbour, and tends greatly towards its protection. It is hilly, about 200 acres in area, and is divided into two almost equal parts by a wall running east and west across it; the southern portion is occupied by the barracks of the convicts, and the other contains the headquarters of the Settlement.