Item 30a - Circular letter by F. W. Lawrence

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Circular letter by F. W. Lawrence


  • c. 19 Nov.-16 Dec. 1897 (Creation)

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1 single sheet (pp. 1-2), 8 folded sheets (pp. 3-34). Pages 3-10 and 11-18 each form a gathering. Most of the bottom half of the first sheet is wanting.

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Account of a journey via London, Dover, Brindisi, Port Said, Ismaili, Aden, Bombay, and Nellore (with excursions to Madras and Guddur).

(Headed ‘Encyclical. Part I.’ Between October 1897 and January 1899 Lawrence made a tour round the world, visiting India, Ceylon, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, and the United States, and during this journey he sent home a series of eight long letters for circulation among his family and friends (5/30a-h). Taken together, these circular letters—or ‘encyclicals’, as the writer called them—form a connected account of the tour. A shorter account, largely derived from these letters and including quotations from them, forms the fourth chapter of Pethick-Lawrence’s autobiography Fate Has Been Kind, and some of the letters bear pencil markings made in the process of preparing the text. The letters were formerly in the envelope 5/30i. The first letter was begun some time after 19 Nov. and finished by 16 Dec. It was probably transmitted in three instalments comprising respectively pp. 1-10, 11-18, and 19-34. From the reference to Bombay on p. 11 it is clear that the second instalment was begun after Lawrence’s arrival there on 3 Dec. and probably after his arrival at Nellore on the 5th. Likewise the reference to Madras on p. 23 suggests that the first section of the third instalment (pp. 19-26), which was apparently written at one sitting (the writing changes part of the way down p. 26), was written after Lawrence’s visit to that city.)



Part I.

[18 Nov.] The last day in England. Late to bed having had letters to write, & economic work to get on with. A few hours sleep & [19 Nov.] start away on final preparations; should have plenty of time for preparations but still a lot of economic work to get done: pace must be […] & packing: […] so th[…] th[…] economic work; evening comes on; rapidity of preparations increases: economic maps completed: cabin trunk finished & locked just in time for dinner: dinner: other baggage finally ready. To Victoria. All done; walk on platform: take your seats: goodbye, goodbye; whistle; off! The globe trotter has commenced his trotting!

To the weary, rest.

11. o’c Dover: {1} (this does […] ocean or even [… on]ly a smudge) […]es; on […] boat […]d! […] (ie Café, Dejeuner, tea, dinner.)

[20 Nov.] Wake at 10 o’c; funny little Frenchman serves in Restaurant; lazy day is spent in reading, eating, & watching the scenery which is magnificent; the vineyard hills are glorious, though the vines are past & over; I watch spell bound. (Eating, it will be seen, always occupies a prominent place on board train) The frontier reached, the tunnel, clocks put on an hour—the first hour of the globe trotter’s 24—Italy! Too dark to see much of a new country; dinner, reading, a little work & bed.

[21 Nov.] Saturday {2} Not much new to record, but the train which went a good pace in France goes pretty slowly in Italy & stops at all but the smallest stations; set to work hard to get all economic work & letters finished; don’t know when we shall get to Brindisi 3? 4? 5? or 6? because train runs independent of time tables. So must hurry up & get all ready betimes. Look up every now & then to watch Scenery; at last all work done at 3.30. At last. Breathe more freely. Brindisi reached, as darkness comes on; & after stopping to wire & spend fabulous sums posting type written work to England, come on to quay in sight of Caledonia {3}, my home that is to be for 12 days.

On board! But here must telegraphese cease, for has it not been declared that {4} that which is spent on board is a portion of eternity sandwiched in between two times. Then after finding my hand packages which a man has brought on board I go down to my cabin, and after some time find all my luggage; this little excitement always exists in going on to a boat, a sort of ½ pleasing cause of dread; a wonder, shall I have everything? Not to mention other methods of losing luggage as our poor friend who lost his washing at Vadsö {5} & of whom it is written

There was a young person called James
With whose washing the people played games
So he stuck up a notice
And all that he wrote is
A detailed description with names

But in this case all is found, all but deck chair; where Oh where? But after 2 or 3 days it turns up, & bicycle crate has to be paid for, shortly so that must be on board.

As soon as I get to my cabin to dress for dinner, I find a Cambridge man who says we ought to know one another, he is Hutchinson of Clare {6}; I don’t really remember him, but shake hands effusively, having a faint recollection of his face.

At dinner I sit at one of the central tables not far from the Captain, & meet Miss Noel who is the only person I know on board. She introduced me to her cousin, & afterwards to some of her friends who are going out to be married. The boat is still in the quay waiting for the last mails; & some of my train companions go for a short stroll on the quay; then arrive the mails, having not come by our train as I had supposed, but by a later one. 690 bags in all; we watch them brought up to the boat’s side in little carts, & carried on board by the Lascars & thrown down into a sort of well; with what a thump they go down; one wonders why they don’t get utterly crumpled up; but from recollections of letters received,—& you will be able to judge by this one—they don’t seem to. Then about 10.30 or 11 all is finished & the boat makes a start {7}; & after some difficulty, with the help of a little steamer she gets away. The first Sunday of travel is drawing to a close, Europe is being left behind, the globe trotter is starting for Eastern lands.

[22 Nov.] Rest & Sleep; breakfast is at 9 o’c only on the P & O they have a habit of setting the clock in the early morning; so each day the night is a little shorter, breakfast a little earlier than it appears.

And now I do not propose to detail a chronological history. Boat travellers know what a boat is like, & those who don’t can never understand, because it is a new sense.

The Mediterranean is by no means calm and attendance at meals becomes gradually reduced; dinner is peculiarly empty, sparsely attended at the start, vacant places rapidly increase, the feminine form divine being in general peculiarly conspicuous by its absence.

Dressing for dinner is universal on the P & O; there is not much point in it says Hutchinson, but “it passes the time”; this he says of most things, & it becomes in time a watch word of a small party that springs up who are known to themselves as the Casuals.

Quoits, Bull, Buckets, smoking, talking, music & singing, & last but not least meals all fulfill the condition above, & so [24 Nov.] we reach Port Said; there the ship anchors, & “coalers” come along side.

(To be continued)

Continued from page 10

These coalers consist of flat bottomed boats full of coal; & a large number of very black looking men bring up the coal from these & put it into openings in the side of the ship, carrying the baskets on their head, & singing a sort of dirge all the while. Most of the passengers went ashore, & I went with one party & soon after landing bought a great big green hat [There follows a small sketch of its outline] arrayed in which I looked a thorough globe trotter; this was very cheap, only 3/- but I have since bought in Bombay a proper topee or pith helmet which costs a good deal more. Port Said is an extraordinary place. One of our party said the proper thing to do was to have a donkey ride; to this I rather demurred, but subsequently finding that the Eastern donkey seemed quite accustomed to carry people as big & as heavy as myself and bigger, I gave in, & choosing a strongish moke, I got on & rode through the town, the other members of the party on other mokes;—an extraordinarily comic proceeding. After lunching, buying cigarettes, nougat, turkish delight etc etc we returned to the ship, & found the coaling nearly finished. Then the boat started off & went lazily down the Suez Canal {8} (6 miles an hour top speed allowed for fear of injuring the banks); the scenery on either side cannot be said to be exciting—a desert. Still it was very pleasant and those who had been ill were glad to have it calm. And now as to the rest of the journey of the boat there is not much else to say; we took on one or two passengers at Ismailia [25 Nov.] {9}, got into the Red Sea & went full speed, the temperature getting warmer every day, but never getting really hot—certainly not for the Red Sea it used to be about 85º during the day & 81º during the night. Reached Aden Sunday evening [28 Nov.] but there was not time to go ashore; from there we crossed the Indian Ocean the only incident being that one day we came across a small boat that signalled to us that it wanted water; we came round, & close to it, & then it sent out a little boat with men who brought skins which we filled with water & we also gave them a bag of rice; but they say that such people are very probably a fraud, & it is becoming quite a custom for little boats to waylay large liners & signalling distress to get gratuitous gifts of rice.

By the way in talking of the scenery viewed from Suez Canal, I should have said it was only the beginning that was uninteresting; after a bit that† bold rocky heights were very exciting; it took us about 16 hours to go through the canal. Coming now to the passengers & crew:—Old Captain Andrews to whom I gave Mr Frizell’s letter of introduction is a jolly old chap and so are the rest of his officers, & altogether we had a very jolly time. I do not propose to tell you about it in detail; altogether we had 2 ordinary dances, & 4 concerts and a fancy dress ball. Then we had tournaments in the games:—buckets, quoits, bull, “billiards” & also a number of sports. The Committee who got these things up did not seem always to know how to manage very well, but the sports they arranged capitally. The passengers divided themselves more or less up into cliques; I am afraid we were almost as bad as any, and called ourselves The Casuals. Roughly speaking this party consisted of 2 girls who were going out to be married in India, & Miss Noel, & her cousin Miss Denny; & of the men Hutchinson, Nun, Lambert & myself. I may possibly sometime send you a poem about the voyage, though I am afraid you will only understand parts of it, but I will say now that Lambert was Christened the Watcher. Other passengers there were in great number whom it would take too long to describe but I will give you a rhyme on one which explains itself.

He thought he saw a Homburg hat a Classic brown entwine
He looked again & saw it was Argenti superfine
Judged by the nasal form said he this comes from Palestine.

I calc’late you will reckon on the sort of time we had; as to the dances & concerts I shan’t say anything; in the tournaments & more especially the sports the Casuals were very successful; Nun won the “Cheroots & soda water” race, Lambert the “potato” & I was second in the “Bolster fight”—a very extraordinary performance—; while Miss Rosie (one of the girls to be married) was second in two of the tournaments; the Casuals also won some other things. The fancy dress ball was a great success. Miss Noel & Miss Rosie were magnificent as Japanese, & Miss Price as a peasant; & my Pierrot did capitally; the other members of the casuals did not dress. The fancy dresses which won the prizes presented by the “Gaerkwar of Baroda” (a kind of Maharajah) {10} were a lady who dressed herself in fans & a man who appeared as sports. One man painted his shirt to represent “Caledonia”; altogether a very jolly evening. [3 Dec.] Friday early we reached Bombay; after hurried goodbyes, we went ashore, Campbell’s agent saw my baggage through Custom house & deposited it at a Railway Station, & I went on to a hotel for the day. In the morning I took a drive round Malabar point, from which you get a fine view of the city. My first impression of the tropics I cannot describe; contrary to most things in this world it was what I had anticipated; but I suppose one is prepared for it by the imitations one gets in parks etc in London. Still of course the general “feel” is quite different in the real from that in the imaginary.

Of the Casuals one girl was to be married Friday & the other Saturday, so I attended the Friday marriage in the Bombay Cathedral, the Casuals all collecting for the last time; & afterwards went on to the house; it seemed funny that we who had only known the bride ten days or so were really her best known friends, all the others—not very many it was quite a small affair—being, of course, friends of the bridegroom. So the day passed, & in the evening I started for Nellore. The ordinary train in India is very broad gauge, but there is also a narrow gauge; sleeping car much as elsewhere, but one provided one’s own bed. 3 other passengers among them Gen. Lugard {11}, rather a squash but very kind. [5 Dec.] 2 AM Sunday morning reach Renigunta junction, where Campbell’s servant meets me; change & reach Nellore 11.30 A.M.

First impressions of India

And there was Old Campbell {12} waiting at the Station in orthodox Anglo Indian garb. “Well here you are, I thought you were never coming” “How do you do?”; and then we were driving up to the bungalow in a Bullock coach. It all seemed so strange, & yet I could not imagine I was seeing Campbell for the first time for a year in an out of the way station in a distant land. What a queer thing an Indian Bungalow is! Outside walls, more or less, with a great big verandah running all round; a few fragments of inside walls, but a great big draught goes (if there is air enough!) right through; only diaphanous bamboo screens like this:— [There follows a sketch of a bamboo screen] partially separate room from room. And then what a size! The bungalow where only one other man lives beside Campbell (a Captain Ashworth R.E. {13} who is at work on a new railway), is about the size of the house where the Shah lived when he was in London (& somewhat like it in appearance); & the “Compound” in which it is situated is about as big as the Botanical gardens. And you must remember that none of the servants live in the house; but I shall have more to say of them later. Shortly after my arrival was served at about 12 o’c (11 is the usual hour) breakfast; this should really be called brunch, & you can have either breakfast drinks or lunch drinks with it; but in substance it mainly consists of luncheon foods. A very fine meal it is; & after having had next to nothing since tea & toast at 4.30 AM I was quite prepared to do justice to it.

After breakfast it gets very warm, (though it is winter), & unless one has business to do or calls to pay one stays in doors, & if inclined sleeps. On that particular day I sat and talked to Campbell & much we had to talk about of things English & things Indian; presently my trunks arrived; but in a bachelors† bungalow, it appears, one does not think of unpacking partly because there is next to no furniture & one cannot put things upon the floor because of the ants. And so the day wore on, & at 6 o’clock we went to church where the few Europeans & Eurasians were gathered together, & the Church warden read the service, for the Padré (ie Parson) was away at another town in his parish which extends over some hundred miles or so. Then back to the bungalow with a man in front carrying a lantern—of which more anon—& so ultimately dinner at 8 o’clock. Now 8 o’clock at home does not seem very late for dinner, but out here seeing that one starts the day 2 hours earlier, it appears peculiar, because one expects to go to bed between 10 and 11 at latest; nevertheless it is the custom, though there are not wanting those who regard it as a mistake. Some people take a tiffin (or lunch) about 2 or 3 in the afternoon; but though otherwise there is a long interval between 11 o’c breakfast & 8 o’c dinner interrupted only by tea, I should think those who take it must put away a much smaller breakfast. But quantities differ. In Nellore where the early meal called “Chota Hazri” served at 6 or 7 consists of tea & toast, eggs jam & fruit you get practically an English breakfast, Breakfast is Lunch, & Dinner is a very late late dinner, while the intermediate tea is a big little or a little big tea as you like to look at it. In Madras “Chota” is merely tea & toast; people have breakfast earlier, & take a tiffin as well. (—— the mosquitoes, their bites make one’s hands tingle all over)

Soon after dinner I felt very sleepy & proceeded to go to bed. What a funny thing going to bed is in India! Undress & suitably array yourself in your bedroom & then up to bed for as Campbell says “We all sleep out on the verandah in a row”. What a wonderful land this is! Every night arrayed in pyjamas & slippers & preceded by Campbell’s head man Buddhoo carrying a lantern, up to the verandah. There are the beds. I get in; Buddhoo tucks in the mosquito curtains, reverentially salaams & disappears.

Now about the lantern:—after dark one always goes about with a lantern for fear of snakes; at this time of year, however, there are very few & they hardly ever come into the house. “Still” says Ashworth “it is just as well, even if not absolutely necessary (in the house), & moreover the servants think the more of you if you insist upon having a lantern carried up before you”! This brings me to talk of servants generally out here; & the very thought of them makes me to ripple all over inside with a kind of subdued chuckle. So utterly absurd, so ridiculous, so footling in some respects, so imposing in others. So reverential & obsequious, so foolish, so careless, & so neglectful of their duty. Doing so little themselves, so ready to command others. Try & get outside your idea of an Englishman, imagine a being so constitued that he regards the bare necessaries of life with complacency provided he can do as little as possible. To your best servant you give perhaps 12 rupees a month less than you pay a very inexperienced kitchen maid at home; & moreover he feeds himself into the bargain. Then remember you want some 8 or 10 men to run a bungalow for two people with comfort so far as you expect them in this place. It is funny to see old Campbell who in his native land used to do every mortal thing for himself, brushing his hair while one man holds his coat & another his waistcoat ready to put on when he is ready for them; & yet these same servants probably fail to brush his clothes, or if they do so at all don’t brush them respectably. I have written all this in a casual way; & very casual they are out here altogether; casual & yet in a hurry—at least that is the Europeans—the natives very rarely hurry. As to the natives, generally, (those who are not servants) I have not seen enough of them to be able to speak with any great accuracy, but in any case there are such a lot of different types that it is hard to say anything at all. They are all colours from yellow down to a very dark black; some of them who are a glossy brown appear to me very fine. Some wear next to no clothes at all, others varicoloured garments; the pale green or pale pink being very picturesque. Here in Nellore the Teluga speaking people are some of them handsome, to my thinking, but in Madras the Tamil speaking race appear to me very ugly.

I daresay you will expect me to say something of the scenery; but I don’t know what to say except that it is tropical, & having said this I ought to have conveyed to you the idea of Palm Trees & tropical foliage generally & dry barren sort of looking ground. In places they grow paddy—rice—but this wants a great deal of water & where they have not got artificial irrigation they are rather afraid of famine, as they have not had the proper amount of rain. The moon has been full lately & the nights are wonderfully bright.

As to the climate generally, they call it cold now; I can’t say I think that; but then after all though they call it cold they have a perpetual draught through the house all day, take no excersise† between 11 A.M & 4 P.M, never go out between dawn and 4 PM without a “topee” or pith helmet, & sleep out of doors or in as much of a draught as possible, while in church & often at other times the punkah is kept swinging. You can judge from these things whether they really think it cold, & I am quite prepared to own that [it] is not very hot, but then one takes every precaution. It is funny that the things one avoids at home for health’s sake one does out here without a qualm, while new items take their place. One example of this is that the cold catching area is lowered from the chest to the stomach. {14} But I must give you some more of the curious things & my impressions, another time.

I find my cycle extremely useful out here & am very glad I brought it, as I could not have got anything satisfactory here. I have also played lawn tennis & golf. There is a club in Nellore, & of this I have been made an honorary member & play lawn tennis there; but of this & of my visit with Campbell to Madras & then to Guddur I must write, if I can, later. I proceed to describe immediate circumstances. When we were at Guddur [about 13 Dec.] Campbell received a letter from his head; saying he must come at once to Udayagiri to start famine relief works. Now Udayagiri is 60 miles from Nellore & there is no rail, & we were then at Guddur 20 miles by rail the other way; & the time was 7. PM no train till the next morning. The great difficulty of travelling (other than by rail) here is not so much in getting about oneself, that one can do on a bicycle, but in getting one’s meals on the way, or at a destination unless you have a friend there.

At first I rather thought I could go with him, but he seemed to think I had better not, so rather reluctantly I gave up the idea of it. No train to Nellore till next morning; shall we go in in Bullock Bandies? (Now a Bullock bandy has no springs & is very rough, quite a different thing from the Bullock coach spoken of on p. 19.) Yes & then Campbell will be able to start off at dawn for Udayagiri on his bicycle, carrying biscuits & soda water with him & hope to get there to the Collector that night. B. b s {15} ordered; but don’t come; 10. P.M too late; because they only go 2 miles an hour & not worth while, better get good night’s rest; so sleep at Guddur; & up soon after 5 & Campbell & I cycle into Nellore starting at 6; not good road & wind against us; Campbell wisely decides he cannot do rest of journey—60 more miles—that day on his bicycle; starts off in a “trotting bullock bandy” with his bicycle on top at about 11 o’c (having had breakfast in Nellore). When day gets cool he will get out & cycle & hope to reach U. that night {16}; if not, stop somewhere, feed on biscuits & soda & go in next morning.

Meanwhile I left stranded. Campbell recommends go off to Adie {17} so I wire to know if I can come;—“Yes”. So I shall stay here a day or two & then start for Muzaffapur which is near Calcutta! It is rather a long journey & very likely I shall go up to Calcutta from Madras by sea, if I can get a boat at the right time; otherwise I shall have a 3 or 4 days’ train journey having to get nearly back to Bombay. Moreover I am left here alone (even Ashworth being away) & servants do not understand English to any extent; still I get along somehow, & of course there are Europeans in the place to whom I can go if I want anything.

I am waiting a day or two here because possible Campbell may wire to say he is coming back in two or three days {18}, in which case I shall wait here till he returns.

It is somewhat difficult to find out much about how to get to Muzaffapur, but Ashworth is coming back to-day [16 Dec.] & I shall be able to consult him; in the meanwhile I must pack up my cabin trunk & small things & take my bicycle with me, leaving my big trunk here, in Nellore & hope to pick it up again some time, it is rather sudden to be cast adrift thus.


Square brackets in the original have been replaced by round brackets.

{1} Followed by a word or two, blotted out.

{2} Added in the margin. Apparently a mistake for ‘Sunday’.

{3} A P. & O. ship, made by Caird & Co. of Greenock in 1894. It had berths for 316 first class and 175 second class passengers.

{4} Followed by ‘the time of’, struck through. The phrase should probably read ‘has it not been declared that the time which is spent’, etc.

{5} Lawrence went to Vadsö in Norway to observe the total solar eclipse of 9 August 1896. See Fate Has Been Kind, pp. 36-7.

{6} Henry Norton Hutchinson, an exact contemporary of Lawrence’s at Cambridge. He joined the Indian Civil Service in 1896 and eventually became Postmaster-General at Bombay.

{7} ‘The P. & O. s. CALEDONIA, from Marseilles for Bombay, left Brindisi at 11 p.m. on Sunday [21st] with the London mail of the 19th inst.’ (The Times, 23 Nov. 1897, p. 6.)

{8} ‘The CALEDONIA . . . entered the Canal (Port Said) at 3 p.m. yesterday.’ (The Times, 25 Nov. 1897, p. 6.)

{9} The journey through the canal took sixteen hours.

{10} Sir Sayaji Rao Gaikwar, Maharajah of Baroda. ‘In the autumn of 1897 His Highness had felt the equilibrium of his State to be sufficiently restored to allow him to make a visit to Egypt, spending two months away from Baroda. He travelled up the Nile to Cairo, and through the region of the Pyramids to Thebes, etc. He was much interested in the irrigation work done for Egypt by Sir William Willcocks (a product of Roorkee College, India), and particularly in the progress of the Assuan Dam.’ (Philip W. Sergeant, The Ruler of Baroda (1928).)

{11} Probably Sir Edward Lugard (1810-1898).

{12) A. Y. G. Campbell was a friend and exact contemporary of Lawrence’s at Trinity. He entered the Indian Civil Service in 1895, and served in the Madras Presidency as Assistant and Head Assistant Collector from 1896 to 1902. Lawrence (by then Pethick-Lawrence) and his wife visited Campbell again in 1926, when he was Chief Secretary to the Madras Government.

{13} Perceval Ashworth, of the Military Works Department, Bezwada-Madras Railway. See Hart’s Army Lists (1898), p. 210.

{14} The ink changes here.

{15} Bullock bandies.

{16} ‘that night’ altered from ‘to-night’.

{17} Walter Sibbald Adie, a contemporary of Lawrence’s at Cambridge, where he achieved the distinction of being the only senior wrangler ever to gain a rowing blue. He was elected a Fellow in 1896 but entered the ICS almost immediately afterwards.

{18} ‘two or three days’ altered from ‘a day or two’.

† Sic.

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      This description was created by A. C. Green in 2020.




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