Overland Journey to India
The following description of the route from England to India was drawn up by Dr. Buist, of the Bombay Times:
The only way, not many years ago, of reaching India from England, was by sailing vessels, which, touching at St. Helena or the Cape of Good Hope, made the voyage in about four months. Now, the journey is usually performed partly by sea, and partly by land, in from thirty-five to forty days. This overland journey, as it is called, admits of variation. Some travel across France to Marseilles, and then proceed by a steamer to Alexandria; and this is undoubtedly the quickest way of reaching Egypt, through which it is necessary to pass. The greater number of travelers, however, prefer proceeding by steamer from Southampton direct to Alexandria, because this saves much fatigue, shifting of luggage, and also some expenses.
Having spent a few months in England in the latter part of 1845, it became necessary for me to decide on returning to my official duties in Bombay. Of the different modes of making the journey, I preferred that by steam vessel from Southampton. Occupied till the last moment with business in London, I did not find it possible to leave town till the morning of the 3d of December. Packing having been got through rapidly enough, I found myself on my way to the South-Western Railway station, at half past six - an unpleasant time to start on a long journey, but travelers learn to accommodate themselves to all sorts of inconveniences. The distance from London to Southampton was traversed in little more than three hours. I found various friends and acquaintances about to be my companions on the journey to India, and a more pleasant and agreeable party than that turned out to be which left Southampton in the Tagus, on the 3d of December, no one need desire to travel with.
It is sad to witness the parting of relatives with those about to leave for India; doubly sad to those who know the sickness, the suffering, the sorrow, and the disappointment too often awaiting the young who quit home with visions of the East flitting before them in their brightest hues. The looked-for return - the bright future - the hopes of happy meetings - all how rarely realised!
We quitted our moorings at three o'clock P. M., and lost sight of England in the darkness while yet very close to it. We steered down the Channel during night. Next day the weather was thick, and the land invisible. The Bay of Biscay, which opens after passing Ushant, has, by means of steam, been divested of half its terrors.
We sighted Cape Finisterre on the morning of the 7th - the first land we had seen since leaving Southampton. We continued to make good progress, though latterly we had had, a rough wind and heavy sea to contend with.
The vessel, in general, approaches tolerably near to the Cape. The outlines of the landscape are bold, varied, and beautiful; but a heavy swell, which commonly rolls in, is apt to interfere with the voyager's contemplations.
From this on running down the coast of Portugal, the steamer on most occasions keeps pretty close in-shore, so that the land is for the most part visible. The first places of note that present themselves are Oporto and Vigo Bay. The appearance presented here by the mainland is exceedingly picturesque. The coast seems rocky and precipitous, jagged and irregular. There are lighthouses on certain small islands, and on more than one of the headlands; and white-walled dwellings and villages everywhere present themselves.
The heights of Torres Vedras, close on shore, present nothing to the eye that is marvellous or attractive, though rich in the most striking historical associations. The magnificent pile at Mafra is generally distinctly visible without the aid of a telescope. It is of enormous extent, containing a palace, convent, and superb church. The lines of Byron here recur to re membrance:
The horrid crags, by toppling convent crowned,
The cork-trees hoar that clothe the shaggy steep,
The mountain-moss by scorching skies embrowned,
The sunken glen, whose sunless shrubs must weep,
The tender azure of the unruffled deep,
The orange tints that gild the greenest bough,
The torrents that from cliff to valley leap,
The vine on high, the willow branch below,
Mixed in one mighty scene, with varied beauty glow.
The ridge, on the highest pinnacle of which the convent of our Lady of the Rock is situated, is wild, rugged, and precipitous, ascending to an elevation of about two thousand five hundred feet. A low cliff skirts the seashore, and singular masses, apparently of drift sand, make their appearance, stretching for some miles along and inland.
A very picturesque appearance is often presented by the fishing-boats when the breeze is fresh. They have a drag-net attached to the extreme end of a long outrigger, stretching some thirty or forty feet beyond the vessel, and hundreds of sea-birds follow the net, with the view, apparently, of picking up any stray fish they can extract from it.