COURTMAN, Reuben (b. 1873)
[Manuscript journal of a voyage on the HMS Bonaventure, the Royal Navy flagship of the East Indies station]
At sea: 1894-1897. Small quarto. 132pp.
Contemporary stiff paper wrappers, rebacked with cloth, marbled endpapers. Housed in a cloth box.
Manuscript journal at sea in the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and along the coast of India by a writer in the Royal Navy.
After giving some biographical details, daily entries in the journal begin with his taking the exam to be a writer in the Royal Navy in June 1891, followed by service on a number of ships stationed near Great Britain (including taking part in a war simulation off the coast of Ireland). In July 1894, Courtman is commissioned aboard the HMS Bonaventure, which departed for the East Indian station in September of that year. Daily entries on the cruise between September 1894 and May 1897 include stops at Port Said, through the Suez Canal, to Aden, Colombo, Karachi, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Madras, Calcutta, Pondicherry, Rangoon and more. Courtman frequently goes ashore and gives his impressions (generally not so favorable) of the landscape and peoples he encounters. Some examples: Sept. 16, 1894: "[The Suez Canal] is truly a wonderful piece of engineering skill but there is nothing whatever fascinating about it. It is cut through the heart of the desert, there is nothing to be seen on either side but a trackless waste of sand..." Dec. 18, 1894: "There are some fine buildings in Bombay. We visited the Great Indian Peninsula Railway station ... We also went through the market and the Royal Albert Sailors Home. In the evening we went to a naval & military tournament got up by the governor. It was a very grand sight." Feb. 21, 1895: "The Maharajah of Mysore & about 30 followers came aboard to have a look round, looked like a poor broken down wandering theatrical company rather than a prince..." June 23, 1895: "Arrived at Mahe, Seychelles ... The town is not up to much, all the principal shops are owned by Chinese. Very poor buildings, the inhabitants are principally French Creoles ... It is noted for its immorality and deserves its distinction in this respect..." Dec.10, 1895: "Madras is a fine built city, some of the buildings being particularly imposing..." Dec. 19, 1895: "[Calcutta] is a fine show, some of the buildings being wonders of art & massiveness." Dec. 6, 1896: "Saw native village [in Andaman Islands], all convict labour employed ...The native Andamanese are black and in their native parts wear simple no clothing whatever, but they are not allowed in the civilized quarters unless they have a slight covering round the loins. Their weapons of offense and defence are poisoned arrows, spears and darts, and they are an extremely dangerous race and resent all attempts to civilise them." Dec. 13, 1896: "Visited the Grand Pagoda which is the chief feature of Rangoon ... This edifice is beyond description ... At the entrance sit scores of beggars ... lame, blind and numbers of lepers, some of which are ghastly sights indeed..." Dec. 30, 1896: "Went to McGregor's Saw Mills and saw the elephants at work, which was a most interesting sight, seeing the immense beasts supply the saws with great baulks of timber and stacking the same. I do not know which to praise most, the supernatural strength which they seem to possess or the almost superhuman intelligence which they display..." May 26, 1897: "Dropped anchor in Plymouth Sound ... I may here remark that I have derived great comfort from this my diary, both in the keeping and the recapitulation which I used to find to be a first rare antidote to a fit of the blues. It has passed what would otherwise have been many monotonous & weary hours when at sea..."