Overland Journey to India
The middle channel alone is navigable for vessels of any considerable burden. Vast margins on either shore are filled up with coral to near the surface of the water. The scenes these present are often beyond description beautiful. When we went up in June 1845, the wind blew a strong breeze against us. Captain Barker, who was engaged in the survey, knew every channel and island so well, that he often took the most narrow and intricate, to enable him to keep the lee of some rocky island, and so shelter his ship from the adverse wind. From the mast-head, the track through which we navigated was of so deep and intense a blue, it was hard to believe that the waters were not colored by some dyeing substance. They looked like the liquid seen streaming from the dyers pot. A few ships length on either side, they suddenly became slightly tinted with green; a little beyond, the greenish blue became turned into a bluish green; a band of the most intense emerald green succeeded, and then swept towards to shore; the last hue the sea assumed, before breakers appeared, was a whitish green, when the coral was but a few feet beneath the surface. These colors appeared in well-defined bands they were not shaded, nor run into each other, as if produced by the gradual shoaling of the reef, but seemed the effect of a set of shelves, with precipices of no great elevation between. The effect of the whole was heightened by the brown and burnt hue of the rocks and islands which were constantly appearing, rising suddenly from the surface to an altitude of some scores or hundreds of feet.
Keeping straight on our course down the middle of the Red Sea, we do not approach the land till the Straits of Babel-Mandeb make their appearance. Here the sea is greatly narrowed, not only by the projections of land, but by the island of Perim. The Straits are closed in on both sides by rugged, barren, burnt-looking rocks the distance across being about three miles. Pushing her way through one of the channels, the steamer turned towards the left in a south-easterly direction, being now in what is called the Sea of Babel-Mandeb, which is a portion of tho Indian Ocean. A series of picturesque and precipitous capes and headlands, along the coast of Arabia-Felix, on our left, came in view, and stretched away to the most prominent of them, for which we were steering Cape Aden.
It was near midnight when we reached Aden, and a portion only of the passengers landed. The only object of the stoppage is to take in coal. Aden is situated in latitude 12 degrees 47 minutes north, longitude 45 degrees 9 minutes east. It is a wild, barren peninsula, composed of volcanic rocks, and of no use except as a half-way house to India via the Red Sea. Within two hundred yards of the landing-place there is a hotel, kept by a Parsee. It contains a large roomy hall, in which smoking is specially forbidden, but always indulged in, with a very good verandah all round, and good bedrooms, and baths. There is a store for general merchandise behind, and a billiard-room, likely to become a common nuisance, close by. I was one of the party who went ashore to the hotel; but all attempts to sleep were vain, in consequence of the noise made by members of the party, who chose to sit up drinking and smoking ! As early as three o clock I arose, and made a most interesting little excursion to the extinct volcanoes in the neighborhood, where the garrison is situated. This leads me to speak of the manner in which the place has become a British settlement.
Aden fell into our possession in 1839. It previously belonged to the sultan of Lahege, who was little better than a common marauder, and in 1837 plundered a Madras vessel sailing under British colors, which had the misfortune to go ashore. A collision with Britain followed; and finally, after some fighting, and a stipulation by treaty to pay the sultan a few thousand dollars annually, the place was taken possession of. The population has since risen from six hundred to above ten thousand, besides the troops and their followers from India : of these there are generally three thousand in garrison. A traffic is kept up with the interior of Arabia by means of camels and asses. There is good fresh water in wells in the cantonments, but nowhere besides, which is a sore drawback in the place.
We quitted Aden about three in the afternoon, and after losing sight of land, saw nothing but the broad ocean, till the high lands on the south of Bombay made their appearance. In a few hours the vessel arrived at its destination, and I stood once more on Indian ground, with well-known faces around me. The journey altogether from Southampton had occupied from thirty-nine to forty days, which is about the average allowance of time. My expenses may be set down at £20. Fortunately, no accident had occurred on the journey; neither, as is usually the case, was there any interruption in the arrangements established for the benefit of travelers. All went on smoothly and agreeably; and every year promises to add new accommodations and new pleasures to the excursion. Such is the story of what is now a very unromantic affair.