Overland Journey to India
One of the principal objects of attraction is the cathedral of St. John, the patron of the order of the famed Knights of Malta. It was built in 1580. Externally, it is a heavy-looking pile. It has a fine chime of bells, supposed to have been brought from Rhodes, and its internal decorations are rich and beautiful. The floor is mosaic marble pavement, chiefly composed of sepulchral monuments of the knights, whose figures are represented in white marble. The governor now resides in the palace of the Grand Master; it is a fine spacious building, well worthy of attention.
The most striking object connected with it is the armory. It contains ten thousand stand of modern infantry arms, fit for immediate use. The most attractive portions of its contents are the arms and suits of armor of the middle ages: some of these are beautifully chased, and inlaid with gold. There is a singular piece of ordnance, an eight or ten pounder, made of a moderately strong tube of sheet-copper, covered over with coils of tarred rope. The gun was really neatly formed, and at first the singular nature of the material of which it was made was not apparent. It seems to have been burst in firing. No great wonder that it should. The library is said, at the time of the expulsion of the knights, to have contained seventy thousand volumes. There are in the palace tables, slabs, vases, and ornaments of various kinds, cut from the marble of Valetta.
The fortifications of Malta are most extensive and intricate; they are connected with the harbors; and on looking at their powers of defense, the mind sinks tinder the conviction that they are impregnable. Fort St. Elmo, the most massive of these works, contains accommodation for two thousand men. Few things are more dazzling or trying for the eyes than the rocks and buildings around Malta harbor; they are of an intense yellowish-white, without one particle of vegetation to relieve them. The waters of the harbor are singularly pure, so that the bottom is distinctly visible to the depth of thirty or forty feet. The Parlettario is the favorite resort for quarantine-bound passengers. It is a long narrow room, near the anchorage, divided by a barrier, where the gold and silver filagree-work, for which Malta is famous, is sold. Here also are shell cameos, bracelets, and brooches in mosaic, and a vast variety, of bijouterie. The Maltese females are celebrated for the skill and delicacy with which they embroider in gold and colored silks, as well as for the beauty of the knit silk gloves, etc., which they manufacture; and on these a good deal of money is usually expended in the Parlettario for the benefit of friends at home.
There is a tradition that, from the time of the visit of St. Paul, Malta has been devoid of serpents or other poisonous reptiles. During our stay, we had evidence of the baselessness of the tradition - having seen a snake killed by a soldier on duty close by his sentry-box. It was about three feet long, of a dingy brown, and had very much the hue and aspect of the common cobra. We had no means of determining whether it was poisonous or not. Close by the anchorage were several sentry stations, and the neat economical penthouse with which the soldier was protected from the sun, struck me as particularly suitable for India. It is a light wooden stand, not unlike a music stand in shape, with a movable board, which can be fixed at any degree of angle, to shelter the sentinel from the sun. Without such a protection in summer, the poor soldier would soon be broiled to death.
So many days had been lost in the storm after leaving Gibraltar, that the time allowed us at Malta was limited to eight hours. We quitted the shore at four o'clock, and were on board as speedily as possible. The Oriental Steam Navigation Company had at this time but one vessel for the Bombay mail, as it is called, which plies constantly betwixt Malta and Alexandria - the Iberia. She is of five hundred tons burden, with engines of two hundred horse-power; a clever-going, clean, tidy little ship, with one of the most kind-hearted, attentive, and obliging captains that can be. And here I may be permitted a few passing remarks on the Tagus and Iberia, in which both my voyages were performed, belonging to the lighter class Of the Oriental Steam Navigation Company's ships. The Tagus is a fine powerful vessel, of nine hundred tons and three hundred horse-power, well kept, and a stout sea-boat. Nothing can surpass the politeness and attention of her officers; and the whole attendance has that air of thorough respectability which imparts so much confidence, and assures so much comfort, to the passengers - contrasting strikingly in the latter with the ragamuffianly crew which, on the Suez side, constitutes the servants in the government steamers. The Oriental Company give high pay to their servants, so as to make their service eminently desirable. They keep the establishment always fully employed; the heaviest punishment that can be inflicted on either seaman or servant is dismissal, with the assurance that he will never be employed by them again. The provisioning of the vessel is let out to a provider who receives five shillings aday for each passenger: the officers have nothing to do with it, but to see that everything is abundant and of the best.
We had a beautiful run of six days from Malta to Alexandria; our voyage bringing us within the farther limits of the Mediterranean, known as the Levant. The time occupied from Southampton to Alexandria was about twenty days, including stoppages.