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A TRAVELLER'S NOTE BOOK., Issue 7964, 20 July 1889, Supplement
A TRAVELLER'S NOTE BOOK.
No. 1. THE MESSAGERIES MARITIMES ROUTE. The least known perhaps of the various steam lines which now keep the Australasian colonies in close communication with Europe is that carried out by the " Messageries Maritimes "of Franco. The heavy subsidy paid by the Government of tho Republic, ostensibly for tho mail service to New Caledonia, has enabled the company to run first-class steamers and keep well up with the developments from year to year of tho P. and 0. and Orient fleets, with which they now compete for the passenger traffic, and seem not uulikely in the immediate future to do so with considerable success. Tho route and the whole arrangements as regards passengers being different from those of the well known English liue3, I have thought that a few jottings of a voyage by the Yarra from Sydney to Marseilles in March-April of the current year might not bo without interest, especially to those who may be contemplating a trip to the Old Country. Sp.ied and punctuality are essentially characteristics of the "Messageries Maritimes." The passenger who is booked by one of their vessels must needs be on board before the advertised hour for leaving or assuredly he will be left behind ; and at every port of call, as the notified hour strikes, the ship is away. The principle that time is money is strictly acted up to throughout the thousands of miles traversed. According to my observation—and it was a close one—not five minutes was lost between Sydney and Marseilles. Voyagers, especially globe-trotters, find this objectionable, in that tho driving ahead not infrequently results in places of historic and scenic interest being passed in the dead of night. In this particular voyage, for instance, we neither saw Suez nor Port Said, having entered the Canal before daylight and emerged at the other end at 10 p.m. Again, we passed through the Strait of Messina in the middle of the night, thus missing the most beautiful scenery in the Mediterranean. The ocean route taken by the M.M. boats has the advantage in regard to distance and the ordinary chances of weather over the routes of the P. and O. and Orient. The S.E. trade, as a rule, prevails with more or les3 strength between Australia and the Seychelles, and in the latitudes traversed rough weather and heavy seas are exceptional. In the season of the monsoon, when between Colombo and Aden and vice versa the passage is long and stormy, the M.M. boats have on the way to and from Mahe a minimum of the blow and consequent discomfort—three or four days at the outside. Mahe, where the steamer coals and remains ordinarily a full day, is an interesting island, as exhibiting tropical foliage, growths, and verdure under exceptionally favorable circumstances. The Seychelles are of granite formation, picturesque with rocky crags an:l thicklywooded ravines, in striking contrast with tho ordinary Pacific coral islands. The tuwn at Mahe (Port Victoria) rejoices in an English Resident, holding office under the Governor of the Mauritius, <*nd has a considerable mixed population, the majority of whom are Hindoos, oi one caste or other. There area few English, but the Europeans are mostly French Creoles. The everlasting Chinaman is here too, storekeeping, and evidently waxing fat thereupon. The well-to-do people live in bungalows, much after the style' in India. I was told that big fortunes have been and are being made by the growth of coffee, vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves ; and I visited one private house and plantation where all the strange trees and shrubs one ha 3 ever read about seemed to be flourishing with vigor—the "traveller's palm," tho umbrella tree, bread fruit trees of large size loaded with fruit, cocoanut palms, coffee plants (with the berries well formed), and banana trees to any extent. Whilst enjoying the hospitality of the owner, a thorough tropical shower set in, and the whole change of scene on land and sea was like magic. The thunder rolled, the lightning flashed, and torrents absolutely rushed down the face of the mountains, glistening like silver in the brilliant sunshine which immediately succeeded. In respect to business, I cannot but think that there must be an opening for enterprise in Port Victoria, the climate notwithstanding. The shops are of the most inferior description. I saw none up to the mark of a George street Chinaman's. The only drinking places are dirty sheds at the back of general stores, where bad beer nnd white rum are vended, and tho citizens amuse themselves with filthy packs of cards and dominoes. No ice is obtainable in the place. (N. 13. The thermometer was up to 95deg when I was there !j There is only one hotel—such a place ! and this, bad as it is, is unapproachable by decent people, since another business is carried on there without any pretence at disguise. Soma of our passengers, highly correct persons, including, I believe, some ladies, not knowing the ropes, went there and had lunch, to the considerable astonishment, 1 was told, of the inmates and horror of the English residents when they heard thereof. A very great man in his day and in his way—the ex-Sultan of Perak—is held in durance vile by the English Government at Mahe. Some few years ago, it may be recollected, this potentate, whose territories border on the Straits Settlements, was held upon inquiry to have been at least privy to the in order of the British Resident at Yiis court, and was condemned to lifelong exile at thß Seychelles. j His Highness, under police surveillance, | camo on board the Yarra accompanied by j some half-dozen of his sons. Being much married, he has a large family. He is short, slight, not bad looking, very dark of course, and was dressed in European style, but with a fez ; speaks English fluently, and is very unassuming in manner. It need hardly be said that he is abominally sick of Mahe.
From the Seychelles to Aden is ordinarily a five days' run for the M.M. boats; we had a dead calm all the way. I shall say little about Aden—a place so well known by description, and better known than admired by everybody who has been there. As it never rains thero except at very occasional intervals, and has not rained now, I believe, for four years, the blazing barrenness may be imagined. Wo drove out to see the tanks, nothing in them of course, but interesting as engineering works. The Arab city, somewhata large one, which we pass through, is, however, well worth seeing. To be noted also, just within tho fortifications on the land side—Aden is a complete and strong fortress of tho first class—was a German encampment—a considerable body of troops of that nation en route to the German possessions, or protectorate, on the Eaßt Coast of Africa. Why landed, and why encamped, I could not ascertain ; but there they were, with a contingent of black soldiers who were to embark with them on a transport then in the harbor. Not content with Aden, England holds now, and has strongly fortified, the island rock of Perim, at the very mouth of the Red Sea. The Red Sea—usually the most trying part of the whole passage, from intense heat was very successfully negotiated by us, owing to a strong northerly wind which effectually kept down the temperature. It was a curious experience to go to I bed with the ship pitching much more than j was conducive to complete tranquillity of I body, and wake in the mornfng in an I absolute atmosphere of serene calm. Look--1 ing out of my port we seemed to be gliding lin some mysterious manner through the i desert—sand as far as the eye could reach— I a few camels here and there—the twin I brother of Ali Baba on his donkey—tho radiated heat quivering over the ground. ■ We were in the Suez Canal, having eutered I during the dark hours. The maximum rate ; of speed allowed is so small that the lazy 1 revolutions of the screw in the perfectly still ! water cause a hardly perceptible vibration, and our progress consequently—from the I port-hole point of view—mysterious. The ' whole day we were in the canal —a little diversity occasionally from having to turn ' into a siding to allow vessels coming the other way to pass. I noted particularly that not one of the huge dredges (employing any number of men) were at work when we passed —pipe-smoking appeared to be the order of the day ! There must be a pretty penny in daily expenses. At one point there was work going on—evidently a contract. A multitude of camels were removing sand, and huge loads the poor beasts carried, kneeling down wbilßt tho huge
wooden panniers were rilled, then staggering to their legs and walking quietly off up the pretty steep bank. In respect to internal economy, and all arrangements, the vessels of the Messageries J Maritimes differ materially from those ot tho I English lines. The captain (commandant) [ holds very much an analogous position to j that of the captain of a man of-war, The chief executive officer, who also navigates the ship, is called capilaine, nnd under him is a second capitaine. Only the commandant aud the commissaire (purser) mess with the saloon passengers; the other officers have a very comfortable messroom of their own. The ships carry first-class, second ■ class, third, and fourth passengers, the third-class at a rate lower than the ordinary steerage rates. The fourth-class are deck passengers, and coil up at night where thny can. In bad weather they must have rather a rough time of it. As regards the table, there is little difference between the first and second-class, and the hours of meals are the same. The firstclass cabins are, however, superior, and have at the most three berths, but it is only when the ship is very crowded that more than two are put in one cabin. In the second-class there are generally four. The cabins are roomy, comfortably fitted up, and in ordinary weather the ports can bo kept open. I had a gentleman from Adelaide with me, and we were able to have all our baggage in the cabin without cumbering the floor space. The bathrooms are excellent, cold shower and hot water always available; the baths ure white marble. The table is quite up to the mark of a firstclass French hotel, tho cooking of course excellent; but tho variety of material, even with all the known resources of refrigeration, is remarkable. From 6a m. to 8, coffee, tea, chocolate, and light refreshments are to order. Breakfast (Mje&ner a lafourclicttc) is from 9 a m. to 11 a.m., i.e., you can come down any time between these hours and order what you please from a very liberal carte. At 1.30 a light luncheon is spread—cold meats, fruit, etc., not to omit mention of half a dozen choice varieties of cheese, roqwfort, grvycre, etc. Afternoon tea, when particularly delicious light cakes are served, is at 4 p.m. Dinner, eight courses, winding up with ca/6 noir and a petit verve, at six. It requires an education to understand and appreciate some of these dinners ! At 8 p.m. there is tea, of which but very lew partake, most people prefc lving claret, cognac, or lemon squashes, materials for which are on the table until 11 p.m. English or French beer of first quality is supplied at lunch, light claret at all meals, and at dinner sherry and marsala. Notwithstanding the abundance of liquor thus available without charge, there is very little drunk in the first saloon, and although we have over 100 passengers we do not count among them a singlo tippler ! Except a little champagne, I have noticed no wine drunk except what is put on the table. There is a bar on deck forward, well patronised chiefly by secoud and third-class passengers, but I have neither seen nor heard of any drinking to excess. In conclusion, a few words must be said about the passengers, since the character of these is a by no means unimportant element in tho consideration of the line. I must premise that the Yarra this trip has been very exceptionally full, in consequence of the Paris Exhibition and the general rush to Europe from Australia at tho time we left. Noumea is the port of departure, and we have on board from there a number of officials, with their wives and families, who have either completed their time for service in New Caledonia—three years ia about the period—or who have charge of exhibits for Paris. With one or two exceptions they aro not favorable specimens of the grande nation—they belong, in fact, to the low bourgeois class, and to see them make play with the knife and fork is a caution ! I fancy few of them ever fed so well before in their lives, and will have to come down to the shilling restaurant when they got on shore. Outside tie French passengers we have some wellknown New Zealanders; squatters from Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia; Melbourne and Sydney merchants ; bankers and planters from the Mauritius ; a large contingent of Anglo-Indians from Caracci, who joined us at Aden ; and about half a dozen globe-trotters—all heavy swells. There is also quite a young man, not apparently over-burdened with brains, who has made a great coup at the South African mines—realised, they say, L 150,000. I notice he is a great favorite with the girls on board, notwithstanding that he is gauche, ugly, and indifferently washed ! Such is life.
This is the thirty-fifth day from Sydney, and we are nearing Marseilles, after a remarkably fine passage. It has been much of a pleasure cruise all the way, and a more comfortable ship I never sailed in. April 30.
A TRAVELLER'S NOTE BOOK., Issue 7964, 20 July 1889, Supplement
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